Traders in markets across Nyanza defied orders by county chiefs to vacate markets as the region started feeling the economic impact of coronavirus.
Some traders in Kibuye market engaged police in running battles as authorities moved in to shut the facility in efforts to stop the virus from spreading.
A few of the business people closed their stalls while others set up shop along the Kisumu-Kakamega road.
The traders claimed that closing their businesses was ‘suicidal’, saying they had barely been making ends meet even before the pandemic struck.
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Last Thursday, governors Anyang’ Nyong’o (Kisumu), Cornel Rasanga (Siaya), Cyprian Awiti (Homa Bay) and Zachary Obado (Migori) announced the closure of markets in the four counties.
But vendors and customers have still been thronging the region’s largest open-air markets in Kibuye, Sondu and Ahero.
The defiance started Saturday as hundreds of shoppers continued with their activities despite public proclamations by the county governments that they should cease trading.
Janet Awino, a green-grocer, said the decision was ill-thought-out, adding that thousands will suffer if traders are kicked out of the market.
“We do not like to defy the orders but the truth is that most people will die of hunger and not the virus if the market is shut,” said Ms Awino.
Should the orders be implemented in the coming week, the region will be hit by a food shortage.
Businesses have started feeling the pinch with most owners claiming to have registered heavy losses in the last few days. Majority of traders import their goods from neighbouring towns.
Kisumu, which relies heavily on supplies from outside the county to feed its population of nearly half a million people, is the worst hit with traders claiming that any shutdown will spell doom for the region.
Milk, onions, garlic, capsicum, broccoli, tomatoes and lettuce come from Nandi and Kericho counties, while eggs and bananas are brought by lorry from as far as Uganda.
Fish are smuggled through the Busia border and complement China imports.
Supermarkets are quickly running out of fast-moving commodities, with some basic items becoming costly.
For example, the price of a single tomato has shot up to Sh25 while the quantity of fruits imported from Uganda and sold at Jubilee market and on the streets has sharply decreased.
It is estimated that more than 60 per cent of pineapples, bananas and watermelon sold across Nyanza are from Uganda, with several traders telling The Standard that the region will soon run out of fruits and other vegetables.
“We cannot make trips to Uganda to import fruits,” said Winnie Ouko, who was selling watermelons in her stall along Oginga-Odinga Street. “I cannot get supplies from anywhere else so I will just go home after clearing my stock.”
Amid the gloom there were traders who reaped a tidy profit as residents rushed to buy essential goods.
There were long queues in supermarkets while traders who sell Chinese fish imports also reported brisk business as fishmongers prepared to stockpile.