THE brutal reality of a rising Covid-19 death toll hit home when a picture of many hearses queuing outside a life assurance company in Harare went viral on social media.
Before this, many assumed that the pandemic was no longer a big threat due to low fatalities. During the same week the picture went viral, Zimbabwe had recorded its highest daily tally of 34 deaths.
Later that day, The NewsHawks visited one of the funeral parlours along Herbert Chitepo Avenue in Harare. Body retrieval ambulances would move in and out at quick intervals while hearses also left the premises in quick succession.
An insider said the Chitepo branch had become the busiest in recent weeks and some employees from other branches were now being redeployed to this parlour to manage the rising death toll.
A few days after a picture of the hearses was widely shared, Nyaradzo Group dismissed as fake news widespread reports that it was hiring drivers due to the overwhelming deaths.
“The General Public is advised to be wary of fake Driver recruitment advertisements circulating on social media from unscrupulous persons trying to deceive job seekers. We also implore members of the public to beware of any individuals who may request for payment in order to facilitate employment opportunities with Nyaradzo Group,” the company responded to the fake news.
While many are beginning to question the official tally, the police and Health ministry announced new protocols for the burial of Covid-19 bodies.
The government imposed restrictions regarding the transportation of Covid-related corpses. The protocols to be observed during burial include seeking police approval for body transportation straight from a funeral parlour or hospital mortuary to the burial site and a ban on body viewing.
This all but confirmed that the pandemic had reached emergency levels in the country. Official statistics also indicated that the recovery rate of the disease, which in October averaged 90%, this week dropped to 57%.
“In order to curtail the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, a body will now be buried in the town or city where the death would have occurred. This decision would ensure that the spread of Covid-19 is contained,” the authorities announced on Monday as Zimbabwe continues to register double-digit fatalities due to the respiratory ailment.
They later explained that corpses could be transported, as long as they were placed in sealed coffins.
Zimbabwe Association of Funeral Assurers (Zafa) president Solomon Chikanda said demand for services had increased over the past few weeks due to rising Covid-19 deaths.
“It may appear that we have a surge in request for services on the face of it but we are still compiling actual industry reports for us to have actual results,” Chikanda said.
As Zimbabwe battles the pandemic that has killed more than 500 people to date, experts say the rising death toll could pile pressure on under-capitalised funeral assurers.
Already, Zafa has pleaded with the sector’s regulator for a review of the minimum capital requirement which it said was higher than that of fellow insurers who trade in more than one product.
According to the latest Insurance and Pension Commission (Ipec) report for funeral assurance companies, only three out of eight funeral assurers reported capital positions that were compliant with the regulatory minimum capital requirement of ZW$62.5 million as prescribed in Statutory Instrument 59 of associate or subsidiary companies both in the country and abroad.
The sector’s inflation-adjusted gross premium written (GPW) decreased by 15.02% from ZW$21.13 million for the nine months ended 30 September 2019 to ZW$17.96 million as at 30 September 2020.
The marginal decrease in the GPW, according to the insurance sector regulator, was partly attributable to the inability of premium income to keep up with exchange rate-induced inflation, which characterised the economy for much of the first and second quarters of the year.
“The Commission continues to underscore the need for funeral assurers to re-align their business models so as to adapt to the realities unfolding in the business environment. This should be the industry’s top priority if players are to reverse the current decline in real GPW,” Ipec said.