African Cemeteries Are Seeing Enormous Spikes In COVID-19 Burials


ABUJA, Nigeria—Since the start of the year, Zimbabwe's oldest cemetery has been extremely busy. Gravediggers are having to dig over a dozen graves on a daily basis at the Warren Hills Cemetery in the capital, Harare, as the number of deaths from coronavirus continue to grow at disturbing rates. “The number of daily burials at the cemetery has almost quadrupled since the beginning of 2021,” Stephen Bwalya, a commercial taxi driver who lives close to the cemetery, told The Daily Beast. “Most of the victims died from coronavirus.” In the last two months, Zimbabwe has witnessed a drastic increase in the number of coronavirus infections and deaths. About 35,000 cases and more than 1,300 deaths have so far been confirmed—a huge spike from the 14,000 infections and 369 deaths recorded on New Year’s Day. But those numbers are surely vast undercounts since testing has been very limited in the country, where decades of economic decline has left it with little resources to tackle the outbreak. At a major public hospital in Harare, nurses have gone on strike in protest over the death of colleagues who lost their lives as a result of a lack of personal protective equipment, and coronavirus patients have been told to buy their own ventilators as hospitals have run out of oxygen. Even the country’s very influential elites, who can barely travel abroad for treatments owing to a number of measures and restrictions countries have put in place to tackle the spread of COVID-19, have been forced to confront the realities of Zimbabwe’s pathetic health sector. Already, four of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s cabinet ministers have been killed by COVID-19. “The biggest concern is the fact that many of those who need testing can’t get tested because the government is unable to test so many people,” said Bwalya. “Among the people buried at the cemetery are those who died after showing symptoms of COVID-19 but they were never tested.’ Zimbabwe isn’t the only African nation with concerns about hidden coronavirus deaths.

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