Coronavirus – Boost or Bane for the Informal Travel Industry in Kenya?
While Kenya has so far only had 208 cases of coronavirus by the date of this publication, there are legitimate fears that it could spread further. If this happens then the disruption it has caused on many sectors particular the travel industry might accelerate to unbearable levels, as fears of a lockdown loom. In this post, we’ll look at the effect that Covid-19 could have on the informal travel industry in Kenya.
The Present Situation
Our government has, as a result, instituted some strict measures to curb the spread. One of the steps to be implemented is limits on the number of people allowed on public transport. Buses and trains may only run at a maximum of 60% capacity. Matatus can only carry a maximum of eight passengers going forward. The number of passengers on a train will also be restricted.
Considering the currently low infection rate in the country, these measures seem dire. But let’s look at this another way. The first case was confirmed here on the 13th of March. That means we’re still in the very early stages.
If we look at cases in South Africa, we get an inkling of what might be in store. The first case was confirmed on the 5th of March. As of the 22nd of March, the country had 250 confirmed cases.
Clearly, the virus is just as capable of spreading easily on African soil. Now let’s consider the effects on the informal travel industry.
Making Travel More Difficult
With buses, trains, and matatus being restricted in the numbers of passengers overall, transport will become more difficult for most of us. This will have a serious impact on the business for the informal matatus plying their trade.
It could also have an unexpected boost for ride-sharing services like Uber. With 3.9 million drivers worldwide, Uber could offer an interesting alternative for stranded Kenyans.
The Potential Advantages of Using a Ride-Sharing Service at This Time
With the government restricting the number of people allowed on any form of transport at one time, ride-sharing services could become more popular. It’ll cost you more, but hailing an Uber could limit your exposure significantly.
With a matatu, you might be exposed to seven other passengers plus the driver. That’s assuming that the drivers adhere to the restrictions. For some, it might be economically disastrous to cut their business. They might be willing to flout regulations as a result.
The point is that, with an Uber vehicle, you’re cutting your risk of exposure.
You’d also benefit because you set the pickup time. Instead of having to wait for a bus that’s running late, you’ll be able to call the driver when you need to.
The Potential Downside of Using a Ride-Sharing Service at This Time
Ride-sharing is naturally more expensive for the passenger. How many Kenyans can afford to use the services of a driver to and from work every day?
It Might be a Moot Point Anyway
This discussion may well already be an academic one. As mentioned, some matatu drivers might not adhere to the regulations. Of more concern here, though, is that we’re facing lock-down measures.
The effects of the virus have already hit our economy hard. As the situation worsens, we can expect to see more companies start to reduce working hours or shut down temporarily.
With fewer people working, there’ll be less call for transport. As fear grows, people will be more likely to practice social distancing. Most will visit shops only as necessary. Uber drivers themselves may choose to stay at home. As a result, the boost to the ride-sharing industry is likely to be short-lived.
The government has already announced that entertainment areas must close by 7:30 pm. Unless the spread of the virus is contained, the state of lock-down will extend to many other businesses. If it progresses along the lines of Italy, we can expect to see most businesses shutting down.
In Italy, only pharmacies and supermarkets have been allowed to stay open. Even then, their trading hours are restricted.
What Are the Chances We’ll Have a Similar Situation to Italy?
Unfortunately, the chances are better than you might expect. If we look at cases across the globe, they all started with a low infection rate. As the virus spreads, though, cases grow exponentially.
While we have an advantage over Italy because our population is more spread out, our towns and cities are pretty crowded. As businesses start to shut down and people start to go back home, we’re likely to see the cases spread to the outlying regions as well.
We Better Brace Ourselves
The hard truth is that this virus spreads easily. Its symptoms in 80% of cases are mild, and that’s what makes it so deadly. With an incubation period of around two weeks, people can infect one another before even realizing they’re sick.
It would be hubris to assume that the infection pattern here will be any different from anywhere else. We’d all better start preparing now for the hard times ahead.