CRÒNICA

Non-stop coffin making

A coffin factory in Barcelona increases production due to the increase in the number of deaths from Covid

María Carmen Vela has been working in a coffin factory for eight years, but she explains to her friends that she is a baker. "This coffin thing makes people feel uneasy," she says to justify not explaining what she really does, even though she says she loves her job.

She is in charge of what is called "upholstering the coffin", that is, putting in the layer of cloth that covers the inside of the box so that you can't see the wood. "It's a craft," she says as she upholsters one, fixing the cover manually with a staple gun. Click, click, click, click. Every time you fire the gun, you hear the sound with a rhythm that gets into your head. Maria Carmen says that in the last few days she's been avoiding watching the news. Yeah, she insists, she loves her job, but the pandemic was too much in the spring. And now she fears the worst: that it will happen again.

The Eurocoffin coffin factory, belonging to the Mémora funeral group, which is next to the Montjuïc cemetery in Barcelona, is one of the three most important in Spain, and has already begun to increase production because it expects demand to soar in the coming weeks if contagion is not stopped. This time, they justify, they do not want to be caught out. María Carmen is one of its 34 workers - and one of only two women in the factory - and explains that in spring they had to work every day of the week: from Monday to Friday and at weekends, without breaks, for a month and a half. The factory then tripled its production: it went from making 70 coffins a day to making between 180 and 200.

Accumulation of materials

Now the production does not reach those figures by any means, but the factory has already started to supply raw materials, such as wood, varnishes or the cloths covers that Maria Carmen puts on. "We make the coffins from poplar, pine and cedar, and our suppliers are wood factories that also make furniture and which had to close down when the state of emergency was declared in March because they were considered not to be an essential service," explains Eurocoffin's head, Miquel Núñez, to justify the obsession with accumulating materials. The factory has also filled the warehouses of the morgues that the Mémora group has in Spain. It has more than 140, and each warehouse holds between 200 and 400 coffins.

Inside the factory the noise is deafening: some workers polish the coffins, others give them colour with a pressure paint gun, others transport them from one place to another. The movement of "boxes" - as they call them - is incessant. The finished ones are concentrated in the warehouse, which is a kind of Ikea store, with huge shelves up to the ceiling, but with coffins instead of furniture. "They fit up to a thousand, but now it's not full. Yesterday a loaded truck left for Madrid, another for Guadalajara, another for the Canary Islands...", says Núñez.

"When you see it for the first time, it's shocking how many coffins there are in the same place," says Joaquín Gironés, who is 60 years old and has been working in the factory for 44 years. He started at 16. He is a cabinetmaker and is in charge of polishing and finishing the boxes. He, unlike María Carmen, doesn't hide what he does and watches the news: on Thursday the Health Department reported 78 deaths from coronavirus in Catalonia, the highest daily figure since the beginning of May.

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