Feature: Namibian informal traders embittered by COVID-19

Source: Xinhua| 2020-03-22 19:56:33|Editor: xuxin
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by Ndalimpinga Iita

WINDHOEK, March 22 (Xinhua) -- The coronavirus outbreak has dealt a blow to Namibian businesses and informal traders.

Namibia reported the country's first two cases of COVID-19 on March 14 and has canceled mass gatherings of more than 50 people.

Selma Hakko, an informal trader, sold ready-made food at an open market in Namibia's capital city of Windhoek.

The once prosperous business has been heavily hit by the epidemic, 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, 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 on Wednesday.

In the past four days, she said her business lost nearly 1500 Namibian dollars (90 U.S. dollars).

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

Another informal trader, Hilde Jesaya, used to sell her products, including some traditional gadgets, at an open market in the northern Namibian town of 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, public relations officer of the Oshakati Town Council, said that 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 750 Namibian dollars 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.

The country's Minister of Environment and Tourism 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 canceled," he said.

Namibia has also suspended inbound and outbound travel to and from Ethiopia, Germany and Qatar for 30 days.

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 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.

Trade Ministry has consulted businesses in the country to assess the economic impact of COVID-19 on the country, Namibian Minister of Industrialization, Trade and SME Development Tjekero Tweya said.

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