Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe – With every passing minute, 500 million cubic metres of roaring water rush over the edge, falling into a gorge more than 100 metres below. The sound is thundering, the sight spectacular.
Once again, the Victoria Falls – locally known as Mosi-oa-Tunya, which means “the smoke that thunders” – is at its peak, but only a few can witness this magnificent cascading waterfall straddling Zimbabwe and Zambia.
Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, more than 350,000 people each year trekked to the Zimbabwean side of the waterfall to see one of the world’s natural wonders. But since then, there have been hardly any visitors.
Now, hopes are high that a vaccine rollout could bring back much-needed tourism in the resort town – but for some holiday businesses, it might take more than just a COVID-19 shot to recoup the losses in a country that has been in the throes of a severe economic crisis.
Zimbabwe recorded its first coronavirus case a year ago, a resident of Victoria Falls. Although patient zero recovered, the country has registered more than 1,500 COVID-19-related deaths and nearly 37,000 infections since last March.With a strict national lockdown enforced, tourist activities in the resort town, as in many other places across the country, were shut down for months on end. However, the advent of the country’s vaccination drive using Chinese jabs means that restrictions have since eased.
Launched on February 18, the first phase of the campaign targeted some 60,000 healthcare and other front-line workers. Of them, however, only 44,000 have been inoculated so far.
Last week, President Emmerson Mnangagwa took his first shot of the Sinovac vaccine to launch the second phase of the vaccination programme that is intended for the elderly, teachers, religious leaders, people with critical illnesses – and all adult residents of Victoria Falls, a city of some 110,000 people.
In a symbolic move aimed at promoting tourism recovery, Mnangagwa travelled to Victoria Falls to get his shot on Wednesday.
Since then, residents of the tourism-dependent town have been forming snaking queues outside public hospitals and clinics, waiting for their turn to get their first dose of the vaccine.
Moreblessing Khumalo, a travel consultant for a company that offers cruises and rafting adventures on the Zambezi River, said although she was afraid of any unknown side effects, inoculation was necessary for life to go on.
“I’m scared, but there’s no other way we can do this,” the 31-year-old told Al Jazeera. “In this town, people need to go back to work; others need to reopen their businesses and even for me, as time goes on, it will become impossible to serve my clients if I don’t get vaccinated,” she said.
“Once I get back to work I’ll start to meet people from all over the world so I need to take the vaccine to protect myself and my family.”