Data Hub

How coronavirus is revolutionising tech


The outbreak of coronavirus (Covid-19) is changing millions of lives. For the first time ever, Kenyans, and millions others around the world have been pushed to self-quarantine at home as governments impose stringent measures to control the pandemic that is threatening to cripple economies.

As at Wednesday, 81 Kenyans had contracted Covid-19. The figure will hit 10,000 by end of the month, according to a Ministry of Health projection. Globally, at least 754,948 people had contracted the disease and over 36,570 died by yesterday, according to World Health Organisation (WHO).

This translates to lost income for the thousands of individuals and families that have the disease and revenue for governments. To minimise the impact, governments and employers world over have leant on technology to ensure that people can go about their daily routines, while limiting their exposure to Covid-19.

Locally, as soon as schools closure was announced last month, some institutions took to online platforms to ensure that learning went on unintrupted. Through such platforms as WhatsApp, learners have been interacting with teachers, receiving and submitting assignments.

Then later the Ministry of Education stepped up measures by designing online learning programmes for all primary and secondary school learners. Today learning for 8.88 million pupils in primary schools and 2.6 million students in secondary is facilitated through TV, radio, and other digital platforms, that according to Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha, “will help enhance curriculum”. Most universities too have come up with their own online platforms.

The government has also been encouraging home-based work for most formal workers. This has seen them use technology to work from home through video conferencing, email correspondences, and other online platforms to communicate with employers, employees, and colleagues, receive and deliver assignments.

However, millions of manual labourers still have to get out of their houses for physical work to earntheir daily bread.

Data from the Kenya national bureau of statistics (KNBS) indicate that out of the 2.765 million workers on wage employment in Kenya, the public sector accounts for 842,900 positions while the private sector absorbed the remaining 1.922 million workers.

The KNBS data shows that the informal sector represents 83.1 percent of the country's total labour force, or about 13.3 million persons, a huge chunk of workforce still unable to use technology to work from home since their work is not yet digitised.

To mitigate this, lately, there have been efforts to digitise the informal economy. For instance, a Nairobi-based e-commerce start-up Sokowatch raised Sh14 million funding towards its mission of revamping supply chain markets in the country, and the continent. The firm has created a platform that connects merchants directly to local and international suppliers, digitises orders, payments and delivery logistics.

Going by global trends as infections rise, more Kenyans could be forced to buy their groceries online if the government opts to further limit physical interactions and all together shut retail outlets. In such scenario, local food and grocery delivery apps such as Jumia, Kilimall, Pigiame and Cheki, as well as global apps Alibaba, Amazon, and eBay are poised to gain momentum.

Data indicates that last year, just four percent of grocery sales in the United States came online, according to Nielsen. However, with shoppers stuck in their homes in the wake of the virus, online grocery is exploding. According to CNN, downloads by instacart, Walmart’s grocery app and Shipt increased 216 percent, 160 percent, and 124 percent respectively this week compared with a year before.

The coronavirus lockdown has also given web-shy consumers a crash course on online shopping. The most affected countries in Europe- Italy and Spain- have among the lowest rate of e-commerce penetration at four percent and five percent of total retail revenues respectively, according to Centre for Retail and Research. But life under quarantine has changed their behaviour. In Italy and Spain, after the lockdown, online customers are up 10-fold, the study indicates.

The online shopping trend in the US and Europe could trickle down to Kenya, and the rest of Africa as coronavirus victims increase, and many countries face complete lockdown.

Using technology to share information, including receiving news, has proven convenient and widespread. Kenyans are today sharing information and their experiences on Skype, WhatsApp, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, among other online platforms.

Local media houses too, have also used the opportunity to Skype live content during their news bulletins with Kenyans abroad, mainly in isolation in China and Europe, which has become epicentres of the virus, giving a human face to the pandemic.

And, in the absence of socialising, many Kenyans are now taking to streaming services such as ShowMax, Netflix, YouTube, Amazon, among others to entertain themselves and their families.

In the wake of the pandemic, a number of niche streaming services are using the pandemic as an opportunity to showcase their entertainment opportunities. The appetite for online video content may never be stronger as it is right now as millions in Kenya and around the world are confined into their homes.

Bloomberg recently reported that global streaming services jumped 20 percent this week, streaming hours on gaming platforms increased 15 percent in the last few days alone, and video game usage grew 75 percent.

In Kenya, churches, which have been ordered to shut down, have not been left behind, as some, mainly in the capital Nairobi have resorted to using streaming services to reach out to their faithful, beaming straight from their churches’ pulpits with a display of playbill number for tithes and offerings.

Kenya’s largest telco provider, Safaricom, a firm that is poised to reap immensely from increased use of technology through M-Pesa transactions, internet bundles, and streaming services, recently doubled its home fibre internet speed from 20mbps to about 40mbps to encourage working from home.