Cafes, malls big losers in war against pandemic

Deserted Moi Avenue in Nairobi. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

Shopping malls, restaurants and recreational spots are bearing the heaviest brunt of the Covid-19 pandemic as the effect of restricting movement of Kenya’s population begins to hit home.

Data from technology giant Google indicates that customer traffic to restaurants, cafes, shopping centres, libraries and movie theatres in Kenya dropped by 45 per cent between March 8 and March 29.

The report uses anonymised data from users on Google Maps relying on the location data to create an accurate pattern of real-time social movement across the country.

Safety measures

According to the report, traffic to bus and train stations similarly went down by 39 per cent over the same period of time, with open-air markets, food warehouses, drug stores and pharmacies recording a 33 per cent drop.

Google says it has taken the decision to share the data to assist efforts by policy makers and healthcare workers in creating awareness of safety measures to stop the pandemic.

“This type of data is used to show how crowded certain types of places are,” explained Google in a statement. “Google has heard from public health officials that this same type of aggregated, anonymised data could be helpful as they make critical decisions to combat Covid-19.”

The company further says it will only display a percentage point increase or decrease in visits but withhold the absolute number and personally identifiable information like individuals’ location, contacts or movement.

Residential estates marked the only rise in traffic, recording 17 per cent more movement between March 8 and March 29. Places of work on the other hand recorded a 22 per cent drop over a similar time.

The figures paint a gloomy picture of the economy in coming months as the government is expected to maintain social distancing guidelines in tandem with other nations across the world.

Drastic cut

According to data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS), the wholesale and retail trade sector alone recorded Sh396 million in earnings over 2018 and paid over Sh265 million in salaries to employees.

Even as some businesses move their operations online, the reduction of customers by almost half means a drastic cut in cash flow, with many businesses staring at bankruptcies.     

This has similarly raised concern over the livelihood of businesses and employees working in these sectors. According to KNBS, there are a total of 8.9 million informal sector workers employed in Kenya’s hotel, restaurant, wholesale and retail establishments majority of whom now face an uncertain future.