Mass burials are being considered by the Home Office as part of contingency plans for a possible avian flu pandemic.
A "prudent worst case" assessment suggested that 320,000 could die in Britain if the H5N1 virus mutated into a form contagious between humans, according to a confidential report.
The paper - said to have been discussed by a Cabinet committee - said that the huge number of deaths would lead to delays of up to 17 weeks in burying or cremating victims. It warned that the prospect of "common burial" would stir up images of the mass pits used to bury victims of the Great Plague in 1665.
"It might involve a large number of coffins buried in the same place at the same time, in such a way that allowed for individual graves to be marked," said the report.
Town halls could deal with what it termed a "base case" of 48,000 deaths in England and Wales during a 15-week pandemic.
"Even with ramping local management capacity by 100 per cent, the prudent worst case of 320,000 excess deaths is projected to lead to a delay of some 17 weeks from death to burial or cremation."