Coronavirus brings boom for coffin-makers in small Spanish town

It may be small but Piñor village in a remote corner of northwestern Spain has the peculiar distinction of being known for coffins, with coronavirus death doubling demand at its nine workshops.

Coronavirus brings boom for coffin-makers in small Spanish town
Pictures by Miguel Riopa

Spain is suffering one of the world's most deadly outbreaks that has killed more than 18,500 people in just two months.

For mayor Jose Luis Gonzalez, the pandemic has sent the amount of work soaring for those in the coffin-making business in this village of just over 1,000 people.   

“Since (the crisis) began, we've seen demand double from normal levels,” he told AFP.

At his own business, which he inherited from his father, that has meant workers constructing “around 400” coffins a month, when they would normally be producing half that number. 

With deaths mounting daily, the funeral industry has also come under pressure because the usual imports of caskets from China “are no longer arriving”.

These days, the coffin-makers of Piñor are taking orders from across Spain despite initial supply chain concerns when the lockdown began on March 14th, which triggered “panic that we might run out of caskets”.

In order to meet demand, the village's craftsmen have had to speed up and simplify their way of working.

“We work many more hours and the coffins are more basic in terms of quality,” he said, explaining that they were plain varnished wooden caskets without any of the usual marble or glass adornments. 

Plenty of pine

As to why such a small village would have so many businesses working in such a specialised trade, Gonzalez pointed to the abundance of pine trees in this area of Galicia.

“It's a good place for casket-making because you have all your primary material in the area,” he said.

Over the years, tastes and trends have changed the look of traditional coffins.   

Until about 25 years ago, all caskets were “rectangular and made of pine”, he said.

But since then, there has been a demand for softer lines “and pine doesn't lend itself well to curves,” he said.    

So instead of pine they have started using formaché, a new material made of paper fibres which when dry, looks like stone.

Imported from Ivory Coast, it is then moulded in Valencia.   

Until now, the village itself has not seen a single case of coronavirus, but the mayor and his team are keeping a close eye on residents.   

“I call my neighbours and the elderly almost every day. Everyone has my mobile number,” says Gonzalez whose staff have been helping out by bringing food and medicines to the most vulnerable.



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Spain rules out EU’s advice on compulsory Covid-19 vaccination 

Spain’s Health Ministry said Thursday there will be no mandatory vaccination in the country following the European Commission’s advice to Member States to “think about it” and Germany’s announcement that it will make vaccines compulsory in February.

Spain rules out EU's advice on compulsory Covid-19 vaccination 
A Spanish man being vaccinated poses with a custom-made T-shirt showing Spain's chief epidimiologist Fernando Simón striking a 'Dirty Harry/Clint Eastwood' pose over the words "What part of keep a two-metre distance don't you understand?' Photo: José Jordan

Spain’s Health Minister Carolina Darias on Thursday told journalists Covid-19 vaccines will continue to be voluntary in Spain given the “very high awareness of the population” with regard to the benefits of vaccination.

This follows the words of European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen on Thursday, urging Member States to “think about mandatory vaccination” as more cases of the Omicron variant are detected across Europe. 

READ ALSO: Is Spain proving facts rather than force can convince the unvaccinated?

“I can understand that countries with low vaccine coverage are contemplating this and that Von der Leyen is considering opening up a debate, but in our country the situation is absolutely different,” Darias said at the press conference following her meeting with Spain’s Interterritorial Health Council.

According to the national health minister,  this was also “the general belief” of regional health leaders of each of Spain’s 17 autonomous communities she had just been in discussion with over Christmas Covid measures. 

READ MORE: Spain rules out new restrictions against Omicron variant

Almost 80 percent of Spain’s total population is fully vaccinated against Covid-19, a figure which is around 10 percent higher if looking at those who are eligible for the vaccine (over 12s). 

It has the highest vaccination rate among Europe’s most populous countries.

Germany announced tough new restrictions on Thursday in a bid to contain its fourth wave of Covid-19 aimed largely at the country’s unvaccinated people, with outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel speaking in favour of compulsory vaccinations, which the German parliament is due to vote on soon.

Austria has also already said it will make Covid-19 vaccines compulsory next February, Belgium is also considering it and Greece on Tuesday said it will make vaccination obligatory for those over 60.

But for Spain, strict Covid-19 vaccination rules have never been on the table, having said from the start that getting the Covid-19 jabs was voluntary. 

There’s also a huge legal implication to imposing such a rule which Spanish courts are unlikely to look on favourably. 

Stricter Covid restrictions and the country’s two states of alarm, the first resulting in a full national lockdown from March to May 2020, have both been deemed unconstitutional by Spain’s Constitutional Court. 

READ ALSO: Could Spain lock down its unvaccinated or make Covid vaccines compulsory?

The Covid-19 health pass to access indoor public spaces was also until recently consistently rejected by regional high courts for breaching fundamental rights, although judges have changed their stance favouring this Covid certificate over old Covid-19 restrictions that affect the whole population.

MAP: Which regions in Spain now require a Covid health pass for daily affairs?

“In Spain what we have to do is to continue vaccinating as we have done until now” Darias added. 

“Spaniards understand that vaccines are not only a right, they are an obligation because we protect others with them”.

What Spanish health authorities are still considering is whether to vaccinate their 5 to 11 year olds after the go-ahead from the European Medicines Agency, with regions such as Madrid claiming they will start vaccinating their young children in December despite there being no official confirmation from Spain’s Vaccine Committee yet.

READ MORE: Will Spain soon vaccinate its children under 12?

Spain’s infection rate continues to rise day by day, jumping 17 points up to 234 cases per 100,000 people on Thursday. There are now also five confirmed cases of the Omicron variant in the country, one through community transmission.

Hospital bed occupancy with Covid patients has also risen slightly nationwide to 3.3 percent, as has ICU Covid occupancy which now stands at 8.4 percent, but the Spanish government insists these figures are “almost three times lower” than during previous waves of the coronavirus pandemic.