Once considered a 'city disease,' Zimbabwe's rural areas are being hit hard by Covid, and panic has set in

Harare, Zimbabwe (CNN)Pauline Chinyandura adjusts her face mask as she rushes to serve lunch to a group of men visiting her makeshift canteen in Domboshava, a rural area around 25 miles northeast of Zimbabwe's capital Harare.

The chatter around the canteen is all about the death of a popular health official from Covid-19 in a nearby village.
Panic has slowly set in this part of rural Zimbabwe as news of the death spreads in a place where people had 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.

      Livelihoods threatened

      Life in Zimbabwe's rural areas has continued at a normal pace through the pandemic. Movement was unrestricted and those who wore face masks were often laughed at.
      Funerals attracted large crowds and church gatherings would go on for days with no social distancing or face coverings.
        By contrast, in the cities, the government has introduced another restrictive lockdown in a battle to curb a surge in coronavirus cases. Long lines form daily at vaccination centers as Zimbabweans rush to get vaccinated in urban areas.
        Zimbabwe officially entered the third wave of infections at the start of winter in May, with the Delta variant dominating cases.
        Pauline Chinyandura serves a plate of lunch.
        Three of the country's four districts that were declared as epicenters of the outbreak in June, and are now under strict lockdowns, are in predominantly rural areas.
        The third wave has increased cases to more than 105,000 and nearly 3,421 deaths as of July 29.
        Before the outbreak in her own village, people like Chinyandura thought the pandemic was a 'city disease.'
        "It is something we heard from the radio, it seemed so distant that we never had to worry about it. But now, it is funeral after funeral, it has hit closer to home," the food vendor said.
        "I am always afraid that maybe a customer will infect me with Covid-19," Chinyandura said.
        The need to survive the day keeps her working, even as the risk of contracting the virus has become a reality.
        "I need the money," she said, while dishing out steaming bowls of sadza, a local staple, to impatient customers.
        "There is nothing I can do. I will die of hunger if I do not run this canteen. This face mask is all I have to protect myself from Covid-19, but for how long can I put it on. I have to talk to customers and breathe as well," Chinyandura said.
        Chinyandura's canteen has no takeaway facility but, to minimize risk, she asks customers to leave after finishing their meals. Some of them consider that rude.
        "I love my customers and my canteen helps them relax during lunch but times have changed. They have to leave after eating because it is becoming risky to gather even in small groups," she added.
        Her husband, Alfred Makumbe emerges from a grinding mill, a few yards from his wife's makeshift kitchen.
        Makumbe's business has also suffered from the hard lockdown in the village, imposed in late June.