Bus operators, airlines, hotels and cross-border traders look set to be the biggest beneficiaries of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s phased reopening of the country from a Covid-19 lockdown, lifting restrictions on movement in and out of the capital Nairobi and allowing air travel to resume.
Mr Kenyatta Monday said the country had reached a reasonable level of preparedness for a partial loosening of restrictions but urged caution and warned of a return to lockdown should the coronavirus cases escalate.
Domestic commercial and passenger flights are scheduled to restart on July 15, the President said, while international travel will resume from August 1, offering a boost to Kenya Airways, which had lost an estimated Sh10.6 billion in revenues at the end of June.
Bars will also re-open but only operate take-away service just months after restaurants resumed businesses.
Long-distance transport firms like Easycoach, Guardian, and Coast Bus will from this morning start preparations for resumption of operations having grounded their fleet on April 6 when restrictions on movement into and out of the Nairobi Metropolitan Area, Mombasa, Kilifi, and Kwale counties were announced.
The bus firms will operate under strict health directives, including leaving some seats empty, ensuring both passengers and crew members wear face masks and screening of travellers.
Yesterday, Easycoach Managing Director Azym Dossa said the move is timely for the long-distance service provider, adding that his firm had lost Sh300 million since March.
The firm grounded more than half of its 100-bus fleet in April 6, forcing it to rely on cargo transport with a majority of its staff on unpaid leave.
“We have lost about Sh300 million in revenue since March but this is good for a start and everybody has to sacrifice and do the needful… We are now trying to organise our mechanics around the country, reset our ticketing systems and get ready to resume most likely from Thursday,” Mr Dossa said.
Resumption of flights, the SGR passenger train service and long-distance bus travel is set to boost Kenya’s tourism sector, which has lost Sh80 billion so far in revenue, about half of last year’s total, due to the coronavirus crisis.
The estimated losses include cancelled bookings for the high season months of July-October, said Mohammed Hersi, the chairman of the Kenya Tourism Federation, a private sector lobby.
Tourism contributes 10 percent of Kenya’s annual economic output and employs over two million people, most of who have been laid off.
“During this period, we carry, just going to the Mara, about 10,000 passengers per month,” Alex Avedi, Safarilink Aviation’s CEO, told Reuters recently.
“As you can see all the aircraft are parked, there is no one going to see this magnificent spectacle.”
The ease of movement restrictions will offer relief to intra-county traders who had been dealt a blow given the economic dominance of Nairobi and Mombasa.
Nairobi accounts for 21.7 percent of the country’s output, and influences economic activities in neighbouring counties of Kiambu, Machakos and Kajiado and even beyond.
The outbreak has battered the economy, with the Treasury projecting growth to slow to 2.5 percent this year from 5.4 percent last year.
Kenya has had a daily curfew in place since March to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
It shortened the curfew hours in June to between 9 p.m. and 4 a.m., providing respite for businesses hit by a shorter working day, and analysts say the traders will get a further boost from easing of the lockdown.
The nationwide nightly curfew has been extended for a further 30 days.
Mosque and churches will be allowed to host services again, but for a maximum of an hour with only 100 worshippers allowed at a time.
Kenya had confirmed nearly 8,067 cases of the coronavirus, with 164 deaths, with cases continuing to climb.
“In the next 21 days we shall study patterns of interactions and the spread of the disease. Any trends that signal a worsening of the pandemic, we will have no choice but to return to lockdown,” the president said.
“For us to revive the economy, reopen and remain open, the government and all citizens must pull together,” he added.
The ministry of education will today announce re-opening dates for schools that have remained closed since March.