The chatter around the canteen revolves around the death of a popular Covid-19 health official in a nearby village.
Panic has slowly set in in this part of rural Zimbabwe as news of the death spreads to a place where people previously considered themselves safe from a virus mostly concentrated in the country’s bustling urban areas.
“This pandemic is scary. Everyone is talking about it and people are panicking. We thought we were safe but surely we need to think again,” Chinyandura, 43, told CNN.
Life in rural Zimbabwe continued at a normal pace during the pandemic. Travel was unlimited and those who wore face masks were often mocked.
The funeral drew large crowds and religious gatherings continued for days without social distancing or face coverings.
In contrast, in cities, the government has introduced another restrictive lockdown in a battle to curb an increase in coronavirus cases. Long queues form daily at vaccination centers as Zimbabweans rush to get vaccinated in urban areas.
Before the outbreak in his own village, people like Chinyandura thought the pandemic was a “city disease”.
“This is something we heard on the radio, it sounded so far away we never had to worry about it. But now it’s the funeral after the funeral, it’s hitting closer to home.” said the food vendor.
“I am always afraid that a client will infect me with Covid-19,” Chinyandura said.
The need to survive the day keeps her working, even though the risk of contracting the virus has become a reality.
“I need the money,” she said, while handing out steaming bowls of sadza, a local staple, to impatient customers.
“I can’t do anything. I’ll starve if I don’t run this canteen. This face mask is all I have to protect myself from Covid-19, but how long can I put it on. I have to talk to customers and breathe too, ”Chinyandura said.
The Chinyandura canteen does not have a take-out service, but to minimize risk it asks customers to leave after they have finished their meal. Some of them consider it rude.
“I love my clients and my canteen helps them relax during lunch but times have changed. They have to leave after eating as it becomes risky to meet even in small groups,” she added.
Her husband, Alfred Makumbe comes out of a mill, a few meters from his wife’s makeshift kitchen.
Makumbe’s company also suffered from the brutal confinement of the village, imposed at the end of June.
No province spared
For the first time since the pandemic hit Zimbabwe in March last year, villagers are afraid to venture out, he said.
“Covid has really touched us. If it doesn’t touch you, it will affect your pocket. People don’t come anymore because of Covid. The police are still stalking us, to shut down businesses that attract people,” Makumbe said.
“Covid is here and he’s not here to play,” he added.
Agnes Mahomva, chief coordinator of Zimbabwe’s pandemic response, told CNN that no province in the country has been spared.
“We are working hard to make sure the response teams are as strong as possible using existing structures from previous outbreaks,” said Mahomva.
But Zimbabwe’s immunization program, which began in February, has not prioritized rural areas and there has been a marked shortage of vaccines outside the cities.
This is because rural Zimbabwe is largely inaccessible due to poor roads and lack of telecommunications.
Last Thursday, 2 million doses were administered in a country of nearly 15 million inhabitants. Collective immunity is always a bit slippery, so one would be tempted to cut that line.
Zimbabwe has received donations and purchased more than 5 million vaccines, mainly the Chinese Sinovac and Sinopharm.
Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube said millions more vaccines were underway, although some Zimbabweans need to be convinced to get the vaccine due to religious beliefs and general misinformation.
“I don’t want to get the vaccine. I’ll see when I get sick,” Chinyandura says.
“I am part of an apostolic sect and although we have stopped all gatherings, we do not take vaccines. I have never been vaccinated in my life,” she added.
However, other villagers, like Tiba Tanganyika, 87, told CNN he was desperate for a shot.
The last time he went to his local hospital to get an injection, nurses warned him that his blood pressure was too high and he was refused.
“I really want to get it,” Tanganyika said.
“It hits home if it’s someone you know”
About 70% of Zimbabwe’s population live in poverty and dilapidated health facilities are themselves in intensive care.
Johannes Marisa, a doctor, called the third wave a “disaster” and blamed the increase in the number of potential events such as funerals in rural areas.
“Tradition is believed to be more important than any rule,” Marisa told CNN.
However, the death of the senior health official at Makumbe District Hospital has placed more emphasis on the spread of Covid-19.
“We just heard of the death… so everyone is panicking. People are even scared to go to be tested or to be vaccinated because of the increase in cases.
“We used to hear that there was Covid but now it’s on our doorstep. It always knocks at home if it’s someone you know,” said Alfred Makumbe, the husband of Chinyandura, who was also linked to the manager.
“We all have to be serious,” Sikhanyile Sikube, a 28-year-old mother from Domboshava, told CNN. The death of the health worker should serve as a warning to those who do not take Covid-19 seriously.
As winter is almost over, Marisa says Zimbabwe is not yet out of danger.
“We are not out of the woods yet because of the behavior and attitude of the people. The level of complacency is too high with the spread of the supersonic community. We need more discipline,” added Marisa.