On the morning of 12th March, 2020, Cabinet Secretary of Health, Mutahi Kagwe, announced the first case of COVID-19 in Kenya. It was an uncertain and strange time for Kenyans and they did not know what to expect.
We did not think, or believe, that at some point, we would be experiencing the same thing. At the time, China, Spain and Italy proved the extremities of the virus when they reported numerous deaths from COVID-19.
Soon after, the Kenyan Government, in a swift move, laid down guidelines to aid in the control and prevention of the virus. In the first two months, the President laid down movement restrictions in Kenya, with Nairobi Metropolitan area put on lockdown. Most businesses were shut down. Countless number of people either lost their jobs, went on compulsory unpaid leave, or were fired after their jobs were declared redundant. Businesses that entailed human interaction like restaurants, hotels and night clubs, were hit directly. According to a GeoPoll study at the time, 86% of Kenyans were unsure of their next meal.
1. Virtual Interaction
The pandemic led to an upsurge in the use of technology to communicate. Online communication included meetings, family interactions and even graduations. Most companies directed their employees to work remotely, from home, to avoid any unnecessary physical interaction. This led to a rise to the use of video calling platforms such as Zoom, Google Meet, and Microsoft Teams.
To kill boredom during the lock down, some people even started holding virtual parties with their friends something which would have been unheard of just a few months earlier.
Listed companies also started hosting virtual AGMs after approval from the Capital Markets Authority (CMA). At the height of the pandemic, companies also hosted virtual launches and press conferences due to restrictions on public meetings.
2. Music Industry
The music industry, a massively social sector, was hit hard, with live performance revenue the biggest casualty. A six-month shutdown cost the industry millions of shillings in sponsorships, with longer delays being even more devastating.
The industry, however, bravely fought back with new ways to monetize music consumption and innovative models to increase its sales through streaming. With people spending more time indoors, use of on-demand music platforms has increased.
During the lock down period, we witnessed a rise in virtual concerts whereby musicians performed for their online audiences. These concerts were sponsored by corporates thus enabling the artists to earn a living during a time when shows had been cancelled.
Musician Dan Aceda launched StudioTISA, an online live music platform that streams virtual concerts online. The platform has hosted various musicians including Kidum, Shamsi Music, Kambua and Musa Jakadala. Other musicians who have hosted concerts include Sauti Sol, Suzanne Owiyo, Eric Wainaina, Nyashinski among others.
School going children in pre-primary, primary, secondary and tertiary institutions stayed home for a record nine months, following the President’s directive. Children who are essentially social beings who find joy in simple things like playing soccer with their friends, working in teams in discussion groups, basically being children, were negatively affected by the pandemic. This is because they were forced to spend their days indoors without any sort of interaction with their friends other than the occasional zoom class.
Even they, had to understand that their learning routine had to be interrupted, essentially for their safety. Even now, when most schools have resumed, some pupils especially in marginalized areas and areas affected by floods, have not resumed classes.
4. Restaurants and bars
Pre-COVID, restaurants usually saw a hike in business in the mornings, lunch time and in the evenings, when most people took breaks from work. Upon onset of the COVID-19, the government extended closing hours for restaurants, with stern instructions to adhere to the set protocols, including mandatory wearing of masks, hand hygiene, physical distancing and getting legitimate COVID-19 certificates.
Bars were also closed for some time which led to massive losses by these establishments and also job losses. They have since been allowed to open but they have to adhere to curfew hours.
Looking back to late last year, when even with the easing up of some of the restrictions, the freedom and ambience of social places was, and still is, very different. People now have to wear masks, maintain social distance, and avoid contact with one another.
5. Mental Health
On the flipside, however, with the social restrictions in place, most people were unable to handle the solitude, and were in search of some form of social solace. Mental health issues hiked, at the height of lockdown.
6. Cashless Payments
Mobile money platforms and banks have launched various initiatives to help Kenyans pay for things and move money through digital means. At the start of the pandemic, Safaricom for instance zero rated cash transfers under Ksh. 1,000.
Transfers from banks to mobile money and vice versa were also zero rated. Due to an initiative by the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) this measure will stay which is a relief for many Kenyans.
Businesses on the other hand took the opportunity to announce that they would only accept cashless payments. Some businesses are still accepting cash but it is a welcome move to see so many embracing digital payments.
Finally, it is estimated that COVID-19 restrictions are here until the cases go down or the vaccine arrives. There are specific areas like general hand hygiene that will remain with us for a long time. We will have to keep honouring the set health safety guidelines, until and when, a vaccine is tried and tested. All in all, we move forward. We adopt, and like in past pandemics, we live through it, with caution and care.
Travel was hugely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Flights to and within Kenya were stopped by the Kenyan Government in April last year in order to curb the spread of the virus. There was also a lockdown in certain parts of the country that limited inter-county travel in Kenya.
Flights resumed in July, for local flights, and in August, for International ones. Travel, when restrictions were lifted, within the country exploded with many Kenyans travelling to many destinations including Maasai Mara, Mombasa and Kisumu. International travel has also successfully restarted with the main conditions for leaving and entering being the lack of symptoms and a negative COVID-19 test.
When COVID-19 arrived in Kenya, there were a mass shutdown of the economy with many businesses either shutting down entirely and having their employees work from home. Some sectors such as transport, travel and hospitality did not have the luxury of working from home so they shut down leading to job losses.
While most companies have now opened, it is not the same as the economy has still not recovered and this has led to downsizing and more job losses.
10. Online businesses and delivery services
There has been a rise in the use of online businesses and home delivery services during the pandemic. With people being home or just limiting physical interaction, it has created an opportunity for businesses to offer their products online.
Popular items that Kenyans have been ordering include alcohol, food, and general home use products.