Zimbabwe: Huffing and Puffing Under the Light Weight of a Face Mask


The novel coronavirus was first reported in China last year. Through human contact as travel is now global, it has spread worldwide.

In March, the World Health Organisation declared the flu-like disease a pandemic.

Coronavirus has killed hundreds of thousands across the world with China itself, Italy, Spain and the United States recording so many deaths that fear and anxiety are forcing people to be impatient with science.

Proud science is taking its sweet time, yet cemeteries are filling up.

Science, though, is a patient man's domain: observing, analysing, taking samples, experimenting, making new discoveries, getting surprises, going back to the drawing board, consulting, certifications, trials, etc.

Science is meticulous -- one cannot rush science. As we wait upon science, we are compelled to do something to save ourselves.

Covid-19 has had far-reaching implications globally and challenges range from renewed xenophobia, revision of immigration laws and employment of foreigners, to slowed-down tourism, strained international relations, increased levels of poverty, poor social service provision and the impending recession following a lull in production because of lockdowns, among other challenges.

Various countries are devising strategies for survival and revival when the coronavirus slows down or a cure is found.

Zimbabwe recorded its first case and death in March and since then, just like other nations, the country has put measures in place to control or at least slow down the rate of infection.

Zimbabwe has adopted the prevention mode due to lack of funds to run its rudimentary healthcare system, with health institutions referred to by cynics as death traps instead of places of hope, recovery and assurance.

Measures that Zimbabwe has adopted include a national lockdown that came into effect on March 30, prohibiting unsanctioned and unwarranted movements.

The lockdown measures were relaxed last week to allow industry to operate, though at suppressed levels, to avoid total collapse. Just like the healthcare system, industry is not at full capacity -- dogged by power shortages and an unstable local currency among other challenges like the need for recapitalisation or a complete overhaul for some to fit the post-modern or better still the hypermodern bill as envisaged by Higher and Tertiary Education minister Amon Murwira under the Education 5.0 model, but this is for another day.

To "flatten the curve", citizens are supposed to wash hands frequently with soapy water, sanitise their spaces, avoid touching their faces, practice social distancing and isolate themselves if they suspect that they might be having the deadly disease.

When President Emmerson Mnangagwa relaxed lockdown rules last week, he made the face mask a mandatory piece of clothing that everyone who ventures out of their home must put on.

It is the face mask that is the subject of this piece.

Prior to Covid-19, the mask was domiciled in hospital theatre rooms, in the tobacco sector and other industries where there is dust or fine irritants, hence the need to filter the air that one breathes.

The face mask is by and large part of industrial safety apparel.

In a country where a big referral hospital like Parirenyatwa is slowly turning into a private hospital as wings are being turned into private wards, and in a country where the government fights junior doctors, threatens and then fires them for asking for basic necessities in the trade like syringes and gloves, let alone remuneration that compares with their regional counterparts, the pandemic, if it spreads to high-density areas, will decimate the population.

The face mask has, therefore, emerged as the weapon of choice against the coronavirus, but it has its own discomforts and limitations.

The first challenge is: Which face mask to use?

They come in various shapes and forms with the most effective being pricey.

In industries that demand the use of masks, they are supposed to be disposed of soon after use and in a proper manner.

The state of the economy does not allow us the luxury of buying the face masks that are effective in filtering the air, let alone bin them at the end of the day.

The majority of the population has settled for the reusable washable version and are religiously wearing them, not because they have faith in their protective nature, but because they are a passport to their destinations.

Not putting on a mask is a crime in Zimbabwe that attracts a fine.

A person's face profile is defined by a forehead, the eyes, the nose and the flash of a smile.

Not anymore in the era of Covid-19.

Everybody seems serious, suspicious and offish under their face mask, thanks to coronavirus.

The virus has permeated every area of our lives and the world cannot wait to have lives back.

The mask sits on the ridge of the nose, whether industrial, perforated or light cotton, one feels the weight.

Breathing is a reflex action. It happens naturally and on its own unless there are underlying problems like asthma.

The mask though, makes breathing a conscious and strenuous effort as one hungers for clean air.

The industrial mask does not quickly clear the exhaled air, making it a mammoth task to draw in fresh breath. As a result, most masks are rested on the neck or better still just cup the chin as people go about their business.

In work spaces, they occupy pride of place on the desk, close to the wearer who must rest the mask to think clearly and fix the job at hand without the interference of the protective cloth.

This does not mean that the safety is lost on the people, but once in a while, one needs a break from the stifling effect of the face mask.

In absurd cases people cover the mouth, and speak through the mask because the nose would have protested and won the battle to freedom.

In some cases it has made sense to use Sign Language to communicate, instead of speaking through the mask.

Real battles are being fought under the mask and one cannot imagine if and when they become mandatory for children.

Covid-19 is being tackled under the metaphor of war and during war, comforts are secondary.

In the meantime let us hook them up on the ears and proudly show off those colourful faces for coronavirus is a real threat and we are susceptible to it.

And I am sure ladies have packed away the lipstick or it would be a messy affair under the face mask.

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