by Taati Niilenge and Nghinomenwa Erastus

SMALL business owners at Walvis Bay are feeling the pinch of the order from the municipality to close shops, as part of national directives to stop the spread of Covid-19.

Shop owners at the market in front of the old Kuisebmond compound say they understand the fact that the municipality wants to stop the spread of the virus, but their shops are not crowded.

They argue that they are only visited by one or two customers at a time.

According to the business owners, they run businesses like tailoring shops, photocopying stalls, repair shops for radios, TVs, fridges, and watches and they hardly get 10 customers per day – a number which can be controlled if all owners stick to the rules of health safety.

The representative of the 47 market stall owners, Thomas Kaulunde, said it was better to be educated more about the virus and directed to buy sanitisers, gloves, and masks, than being asked to entirely close their shops.

“We are not happy about closing our businesses. We understand the situation of overcrowded places like Ekutu where hundreds of people are packed in one place, but this is a quiet area. There are hardly people moving around except when they come to collect their electronic gadgets or clothes,” he said.

He said the president banned gatherings of 50 people but they hardly get even five at a time at their workplaces.

“We are afraid of starvation more than we fear Covid-19 now. Children are on holiday and they are eating so much, other people need to take medication and there is no food. We are stressed because we are worried about bills at the end of this month,” he said.

Kalunde says people had been called to a meeting before the government order, where they were informed and given pamphlets on Covid-19, and they thought they were only being educated about the virus, without having to close their shops.

However, they were told last week to close their shops and continue business at home until they are told to return.

“If I am renting a small ghetto at someone’s house, where will a machine fit in and how many people will be able to come there? Where will I put my computer and printer for my photocopying business on somebody’s premises?

Kalunde said he had inquired from the municipality if they will be supplied with food, water and electricity after they stopped generating income.

However, the municipality has not responded yet.

“If you say Walvis Bay is cold, what about the other coastal towns? Is it only municipal facilities that will be targeted by Covid-19,” he asked?

Kalunde said the group is not interested in hearing more stories, but just want their shops to be opened, as they will try to comply with rules and use protection.

Public relations manager at Walvis Bay municipality Kevin Adams said the directives were given for safety reasons.

“Unfortunately, no exceptions can be made because they share the premises,” he said.

The municipality also closed all parks, libraries, sports facilities, Dolphin Park Resort, the Lagoon swimming pool, and cancelled town hall bookings until further notice.

The municipality also started cleaning and disinfecting taxi ranks, open markets and the Kuisebmond Old-Age Home last week, while other prioritised places include the Twaloloka informal settlement and the area around Shop4Value in Kuisebmond.

NO ECONOMIC PACKAGE YET

The ministries of finance and trade as well as the National Planning Commission are yet to pronounce themselves on measures being taken to help businesses and the economy to withstand the Covid-19 effect on production.

Analysts have called for a swift response to stimulate the economy as measures are being taken to stop the spread of the virus.

The only response so far has been the reduction in the repo rate by the Bank of Namibia resulting in the reduced cost of borrowing to commercial banks. The banks are expected to pass the benefit to businesses and households that have loans.

However, the cut impact could be limited as businesses are being advised not to have major capital expenditure now due to uncertainty.

Economist Omu Kakujaha-Matundu said the no-signal coming from those in charge of creating a conducive macroeconomic environment for businesses is worrisome.

He said as more measures are implemented to combat the spread of the pandemic, the more people are sent home, stopping income-generating activities for various households.

He added that making more people hungrier without a plan on how to feed them while confined at home is counterproductive.

Using the Walvis Bay case, Kakujaha-Matundu pointed out that people in informal businesses live from hand to mouth and sending them home without any backup plan could be catastrophic.

He said the authorities should be cognisant of the fact that some people and businesses started feeling the pinch of Covid-19 last week.

He said the informal sector is taking up most of the unemployed and is carrying the struggling economy. With more measures being implemented and projected to come, they will suffer if policy makers remain mute on a stimulus package.

Kakujaha-Matundu suggested that the panel on the economy draft new recommendations and strategies on how to manoeuvre around the shock-wave from Covid-19.

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