Coronavirus infects small business

In the less than two weeks since the first cases of Covid-19 were confirmed in Namibia, the incomes of small businesses in the country have plummeted.

25 March 2020 | Business

Most of the time I would be driving around alone. – Neels Links, Taxi driver

Small businesses in Namibia, especially bus and taxi drivers, as well as vendors, have been hit by a slash in demand as people fear the spread of Covid-19.

Bus and taxi drivers are complaining of less and less clients due to coronavirus.

Drivers this week said that they have so far already lost over 80% of their regular clients.

Namibia’s fourth Covid-19 case was confirmed on Monday.

One driver, Emil Immanuel, said though he fears for his health, he has no choice but to continue working as he has to make ends meet. At home he is the only breadwinner to a family of nine.

"It is so sad to know that the job I loved so much can now be risky for my health. We drivers are at high risk of contracting and spreading the deadly virus," Immanuel said.

It’s his only way of making money, he said, adding that he has already lost a lot of clients due to the closure of schools and some work places.

"As schools were forced to close for one month, and with some companies demanding that people work from home, we taxi drivers have lost a lot of money. For now we are really struggling. Many of my clients have also decided to drive with their colleagues to work, because they fear taking public transport," Immanuel said.

‘Difficult to make ends meet’

Another taxi driver, Neels Links, said his daily income has dropped by more than 77%.

"Many entertainment venues are now closed. It is true that people in Namibia now don't travel as much they used to. Most of the time I would be driving around alone. For us making ends meet is difficult now," Links said.

Some drivers have started implementing new sanitation protocols while contending with reduced commuters as fears of Covid-19 persist.

The secretary-general of the Namibia Bus and Taxi Association (Nabta), Pendapala Nakathingo, has urged taxi and bus drivers to wear masks and gloves to not only protect themselves, but also their customers.

One former client, Benjamin Plaatjies, said he stopped taking public transport because it is a gathering, something the health officials and president Hage Geingob has already warned against.

"When it comes to my health I am not taking any chances. I have bought my own car last week. For me prevention is better than cure," Plaatjies said.

The spokesperson of the City of Windhoek (CoW), Lydia Amutenya, said the municipality is currently busy discussing the necessary precautions to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

"However for now, registered buses and taxis should be disinfected daily and drivers will be offered masks and gloves. City bus drivers are also required to disinfect all busses before and after transporting passengers," Amutenya said.

Sales stall

The coronavirus outbreak has dealt a blow to Namibian businesses and informal traders.

Selma Hakko, an informal trader, sold ready-made food at an open market in Windhoek.

The once prosperous business has been heavily hit by the pandemic, as more and more people avoid buying ready meals because of fear of infection, the food peddler said.

"Since the government confirmed the two cases of Covid-19 [on 14 March], fewer people frequent the open market. They are not keen on visiting the market to avoid contact with many people. Income has declined drastically," said Hakko.

In just days, her business lost nearly N$1 500.

According to the 2018 Namibian Labour Force Survey, more than half of the country's population worked in the informal sector.

Open markets

Another informal trader, Hilde Jesaya, used to sell her products, including some traditional gadgets, at an open market in Oshakati every Monday and Friday.

"Before Covid-19, people could come and sell their products, and I generated adequate income to support my family. Now that business activities have stalled, I have to seek other means, which will be difficult since I depend on the huge public turnout to trade," Jesaya said.

Katarina Kamari, the public relations officer of the Oshakati Town Council, said local authorities had to temporarily suspend such trade amid the rapid spread of the virus.

The beauty sector is also impacted by the pandemic.

For Windhoek-based hairdresser Maria Shilongo, clients fear contact with people in public spaces, and thus barely visit barbershops.

"Ordinarily, I would make N$750 on a good day. But now, that is the equivalent total I made since Sunday. I don't know how I will make ends meet if the trend persists," Shilongo said.

Tourism

The minister of environment, tourism and forestry, Pohamba Shifeta, said the tourism and hospitality industry, one of the major contributors to the country's economy, is also negatively affected. Namibia attracted more than 1.5 million tourists in 2018.

"The tourism and hospitality industry is facing a nose-diving trend now. No tourists are coming. Most events, conference and activities are cancelled," he said.

Shifeta said that job losses are inevitable due to income losses.

"At the moment, we are working on mitigation measures to counter the anticipated impacts. However, we are optimistic that things will pick up with the end of the spread of coronavirus," he said.

Meanwhile, key partners jointly with the Hospitality Association of Namibia (HAN) have turned to social media in a campaign to help the industry cope with the challenge.

"Don't cancel your travel. Change the dates - save tourism," read one of the social media posts.

The trade ministry has consulted businesses in the country to assess the economic impact of Covid-19 on the country, the former minister of industrialisation, trade and SME development, Tjekero Tweya, said.

Tweya also called on financial institutions to relax policies in light of anticipated economic hard times. – Nampa/Xinhua

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