Hordes of people seeking for US dollars are pressed up against each other outside a foreign currency exchange in Zimbabwe’s capital.
“That’s it, keep it tight,” some yell, attempting to deter others from cutting in front of the line in order to acquire the money that would allow them to obtain a discount on items tied to a rapidly depreciating local currency.
A fresh increase in coronavirus infections caused by the omicron form, some two years after the worldwide pandemic began, is closing companies, suspending travel, reawakening worries of overburdened hospitals, and upending vacation and holiday plans in nations all over the world.
However, the virus’s comeback in Zimbabwe and other African countries is endangering the lives of millions of people who have already been pushed to the brink by a pandemic that has wrecked their economy. Worries over whether to congregate with family members for the holiday or heed official messages recommending COVID-19 measures take a back place when having food on the table is not a guarantee.
“Yes, I’ve heard of the new variation, but there’s nothing worse than having nothing to eat at home right now,” says Joshua Nyoni, a furniture shop worker who is one of the dozens lining up outside the exchange. Nyoni, like many others in the throng, alternates between wearing his face mask below his chin and putting it in his pocket.
In March, the United Nations Economic Commission on Africa (ECA) reported that Africa is home to nearly nine out of ten of the world’s severely impoverished people. The ECA now warns that the economic consequences of the pandemic, which began in 2020, “would force an extra 5 to 29 million people into extreme poverty.”
“If the pandemic’s impact is not curtailed by 2021,” the organization adds, “an additional 59 million individuals might face the same destiny, bringing the total number of severely impoverished Africans to 514 million.”
According to the World Bank, the GDP shrank from 2.4 percent in 2019 to 3.3 percent in 2020, sending Africa into its first recession in 25 years.
The Associated Press quoted Sean Granville-Ross, Africa regional director for the nonprofit philanthropic group Mercy Corps, as saying, “The economic dislocation produced by COVID-19 has driven food problems off a cliff.”
According to Granville-Ross, his group noticed “an alarming surge in demand” in 2021 in areas including the Sahel, West Africa, East Africa, and Southern Africa, where several nations were already facing humanitarian crises and violence prior to COVID-19.
Concerns are growing as a result of an increase in COVID infections in Africa, which now accounts for nearly 9 million of the world’s 275 million cases.
In its weekly pandemic assessments, the Globe Health Organization has referred to Africa as “one of the least afflicted areas in the world” for months. However, the number of new cases was “now doubling every five days, the quickest pace this year,” it reported in mid-December, as the delta and omicron strains pushed up infections. Over the last week, both South Africa and Zimbabwe have reported lower numbers, but officials remain wary.
New travel restrictions and probable lockdowns, according to Granville-Ross, “would simply force millions more people into poverty and weaken the little economic improvement we have begun to witness.”
In comparison to the rest of Africa, where only around 7% of the population has gotten two doses of the coronavirus vaccine, Zimbabwe is considered a success story, despite the fact that only approximately 20% of its 15 million people have been completely vaccinated.
The government has vowed to expand vaccination regulations in the face of remaining skepticism. However, for many people, anxieties about viral infection have taken a back seat to the more pressing chore of feeding their family.
Hundreds of citizens, desperate for cash in an economy where cash, particularly the US dollar, reigns supreme, sleep for days outside foreign currency exchangers and banks, packed close together. Elderly folks, many of whom are not wearing face masks or are not wearing them correctly, queue for kilometers to take their pensions.
Outside the packed foreign currency market, Nyoni comments, “I’d rather spend my time here than line for the vaccine.”
“If I get the virus, they may put me in quarantine, treat me, or even feed me if I’m in the hospital,” he adds. “But hunger is a different story: you can’t be quarantined because your family is hungry. People just stand around and watch you die.”