Coronavirus: New York health official clarifies comments about burials for victims of COVID-19

A New York health official has clarified comments the city may need to start burying bodies of those who have died after contracting coronavirus in public parks by saying the remarks referred to a contingency plan.

On Monday, the city’s Council Health Committee chair Mark Levine tweeted: “Soon we'll start ‘temporary interment’. This likely will be done by using a NYC park for burials (yes you read that right). Trenches will be dug for 10 caskets in a line. morgues grow beyond capacity.”

“It will be done in a dignified, orderly – and temporary – manner. But it will be tough for NYers to take,” he wrote.

He added: “To recap: Nothing matters more in this crisis than saving the living. But we need to face the gruesome reality that we need more resources to manage our dead as well.”

Mr Levine’s tweets received significant media attention, but he has since clarified his comments to say the plans were a contingency only.

Employees wearing masks deliver a body at a funeral home in the Brooklyn borough of New York. (AP)

He said: “This tweet has gotten a lot of attention. So I want to clarify: the is a contingency NYC is preparing for BUT if the death rate drops enough it will not be necessary.”

When asked about it in his daily briefing, New York governor, Andrew Cuomo, reiterated he was “unaware of such wild rumours”.

“I have not heard anything about the city burying people in parks,” he said.

Speaking this afternoon, the New York mayor, Bill de Blasio, said the city “may well be dealing with temporary burials” but said he wouldn’t go into detail.

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A body wrapped in plastic on a makeshift stretcher outside a New York hospital. (AP)

New York has become the focal point of the virus outbreak in the US.

However, the steep rise in deaths in the city appears to be levelling off in a possible sign that social distancing is working.

The number of cases in New York State stands at 130,689 confirmed infections and 4,758 deaths as of Monday at 8pm.

Governor Cuomo warned this afternoon it was no time to relax the restrictions aimed at keeping people from getting too close to one another, and he ordered bigger fines against violators.

“The numbers look like it may be turning. ‘Yay, it’s over!’ No, it’s not. And other places have made that mistake,” he said as deaths in the US climbed past 10,000, with around 350,000 confirmed infections.

Donald Trump said on Monday the US was “starting to see light at the end of the tunnel”.

This article was updated on April 6 to incorporate Mr Levine’s clarification