Columnists

How coronavirus is hurting the economy

BENEDICT Tembo.

Analysis: BENEDICT TEMBO
TAXI drivers who operate in my neighbourhood in Lusaka’s Kabwata Township have already lost business following the impromptu closure of learning institutions.
They have roaring business by taking their clients’ schoolchildren to school and vice versa.
The closure of all schools on Friday as part of public health to prevent the further spread of the novel coronavirus disease means they have lost one stream of regular income.
These taxi drivers in Kabwata are not the only early casualties of the COVID-19 in the country, which has recorded three cases so far from the many who have been screened.
Several other small-scale business people such as hair stylists, barbers, and restaurant owners, among others, are already feeling the pinch as a result of the COVID-19, which is affecting 183 countries and territories around the world.
With social distancing encouraged as one of the preventive measures, people have become very cautious about who they interact with – even at 100 metres length.
Citizens are no longer visiting some of the trading places such as markets they frequented because, suddenly, they are averse to crowds.
In fact, some have found a perfect excuse for not going to church or places of worship.
Now, these are just the early stages when the country has just recorded three cases, yet panic is written on most of the people’s faces I see nowadays.
I shudder to think about the full-scale impact.
Even if the pandemic does not blow out of proportion and being highly import-dependent, sooner than later the country shall experience some shortages of certain commodities, including drugs, because our supply chains shall suffer disruptions from travel restrictions.
Zambia imports a lot of goods from China and South Africa, among the COVID-19-hit countries.
Most traders in Zambia, just like taxi drivers and street vendors, have a subsistence existence and virtually have to work every day to put food on the table.
So any restriction to their access to that dead-end work spells big danger.
Measures put in place by the Ministry of Health are already putting pressure on cash flows for businesses – parents shall only pay school fees whenever schools open but salaries still have to be paid; taxis and school pick-up services are in dire straits
Work productivity shall be affected by factors ranging from restricted working hours and gatherings to some down-turn that may be caused by the actual illnesses.
Some companies have already closed shop as a precautionary measure and workers are now operating from their homes.
Parliament adjourned at the height of debating Bill 10.
The judiciary, too, has suspended hearing of less urgent cases in the magistrate and local courts as one of the measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Sports activities have been put on halt until further notice, just like prayers have been reduced to one hour.
The soccer industry in Zambia has ground to a halt and 1,100 professional footballers have to sit around hoping their salaries will keep coming while the COVID-19 outbreak is contained.
Premier League chief executive officer Brian Mulenga says 1,100 jobs and the whole sports ecosystem are at risk. The longer the halt lasts, the more the clubs will bleed. Sponsors will be forced to make tough decisions.
Zambia is currently extremely susceptible to make the economic shocks on the world economic scene and all these shall locally translate to depreciation of the Kwacha along with downstream effects like rising prices.
Already, the Kwacha is trending to a record K16.90 to a United States dollar.
Additional pressures on the Kwacha shall also come from the drying up of the little income streams of less visits into Zambia by both commercial and social tourists restricting their travel while airlines such as Emirates and South African Airways will suspend operations aimed at stopping the transmission of the COVID-19.
Both Emirates and SAA will temporarily suspend operations from March 20, 2020 until May 20, 2020.
This will translate into the loss of parking fees, fuel revenue by oil marketing companies and other services.
The Kuomboka ceremony in Western Province, which was not held last year on account of the drought, will not be held this year even with the Zambezi plains being flooded – all because of the coronavirus. What a shame!
Minister of Tourism Ronald Chitotela said 15,000 tourists who planned to visit Lusaka have cancelled their trips while 6,143 who wanted to travel to Southern Province, except Livingstone, have also cancelled their trips.
Mr Chitotela also said US$1.6 million is being demanded by individual tourists who were supposed to visit Livingstone while those who intended to visit Lusaka want a refund of US$210,000 each.
He said US$30,000 is being asked by tourists who wanted to visit Western Province and US$2,920 is being sought by those who wanted to visit the Luangwa Corridor.
Government cannot afford these refunds during this trying period.
Government is meanwhile facing additional pressure on diverting money from social expenditure to the emergency vault.
The coronavirus will also have a big impact on the health sector not only from the impact of the cost of the epidemic but also because of inadequacy of facilities.
The coronavirus will cause not only massive disruption to businesses, but our livelihoods as well.
The author is editorials editor at the Zambia Daily.


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