A group of women sing hymns in the Harare cemetery as funeral directors, dressed in Covid-19 protective clothing, gently lower a white coffin to the grave.
“This world is not our home,” they sing, while family members, standing a few meters away, mourn their loss.
The deceased is a 31-year-old man who died of coronavirus. He arrived at the hospital too late for help.
As this group of mourners leave, another hearse stops at the Warren Hills Cemetery to bury another Covid-19 victim.
Roughly half a dozen burials will take place in quick succession throughout the day in an effort to keep up with the grim task of burying Zimbabwe’s dead, as the third wave of the virus continues to claim hundreds of lives each week.
According to the Ministry of Health and Child Care, almost half of the total Covid deaths in the country so far occurred in July. Throughout the month, 58,996 infections They were recorded, the highest since the beginning of the pandemic, and more than 1,700 people died.
To date, a total of 3,826 deaths have been recorded by the World Health Organization since March of last year.
The huge increase has overwhelmed undertakers, causing burial delays, authorities have admitted.
Outside of one of Zimbabwe’s largest funeral homes in central Harare, dozens of grieving people eagerly await to be seen. Some have waited three days while the company struggles to cope.
Philip Mataranyika, owner of Nyaradzo Funeral Services, said: “With so many deaths, the end-of-life industry has been under immense pressure, causing delays in all respects. The burial of our loved ones has been delayed a day or two. “
With the bodies piled up in the morgues, Mataranyika pleaded with Zimbabweans to observe Covid protocols.
“Our hospitals are full of the sick and our morgues are full of the dead. Our front-line colleagues in the healthcare industry are doing everything they can to save lives. Sometimes your efforts go unrewarded, resulting in loss of life, and this has happened on occasions too numerous to mention. Every time this has happened, the morgues have been the most affected, ”he says.
“I implore you, compatriots, to observe the guidelines of the World Health Organization and those issued by our government so that we can be safe and avoid infection.”
An undertaker who works at the Nyaradzo Funeral Home, but did not want to be named, says he is preparing 30 bodies for burial each day.
“I identify about 30 corpses a day and most of them are related to Covid. July was very busy; Sometimes I disconnected around midnight. This has also had a great impact on my body, since I am always tired. The third ola has killed a lot of people, “he says.
“There have been delays due to limited resources; We cannot carry out all burials at once. Now we are doing a reservation system and if we reach a certain number, like 30, we postpone the burial for the next day. “
Dozens of graves are dug every day, as the demand for spaces has more than tripled in the last two months.
Jairos Mutseyami, 37, a gravedigger at Warren Hills Cemetery, says: “I am always exhausted after work. It is also difficult to work in such conditions; I have a constant fear of contracting Covid. Only God keeps us here. “
Beven Mudepu, 35, who sells flower wreaths at a stall on the outskirts of Nyaradzo. undertakers, says mourners were buying up to 30 wreaths a day last month.
“We see hundreds of people coming into the room every day and some unlucky ones can wait up to three days to get the bodies of their relatives. They say there is no capacity to deal with the increase in deaths, ”says Mudepu.
Norman Matara, President of the Zimbabwe Physicians for Human Rights Association, says frontline workers are hopeful that Covid-19 deaths will decline with the end of the southern hemisphere winter.
“It seems that we are now at the peak of the third wave, although the cases are still high. We hope that the death rate will drop soon. But people are dying, we are seeing around 60 to 70 deaths a day, even up to 90, and that’s a lot of lives lost, ”he says.
Matara cautions the public against compliance. People with severe symptoms should go to the hospital sooner, he says, as delays have been a leading cause of death.
“People are using unconventional means to cure Covid and when they see that it is not working, they go to hospitals. [By then] it would be too late to deal with these cases, “he says.
Zimbabwe is pinning its hopes on its vaccination program, which has been very successful. So far, more than 2 million people have received at least a single dose.
At the end of last month, the country authorized the use of Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the first Western-made vaccine approved in Zimbabwe, which already has Chinese vaccines, Covaxin developed in India and Russian Sputnik V.