The Kenya Airways Cargo Centre is experiencing a slowdown of activities as coronavirus outbreak bites.
Kenya Airways, which operates one flight daily to Guangzhou via Bangkok, had indefinitely suspended flights to the world’s second-largest economy as it deals with the outbreak that has infected thousands of people.
Kenya imports most products and industrial raw materials from China but with the slowdown in the Chinese economy and port closures, has hurt traders. Kenya Airways also suspended flights to Rome, Italy, the European country that has been worst hit by the coronavirus.
As a result, imports and export activities at the airport are considerably reduced. The suspension of flights to China for about a month has cost Kenya Airways $8 million (Sh816 million) in revenue, KQ management said recently.
Although Benjamin Wagude, cargo sales executive at KQ maintains that it continues to be business as usual at the cargo section, workers at the centre say they have seen reduced work.
“The consignments are coming in and out of everywhere but China. There is not much difference in volumes,” he added.
However, clearing agents, seated outside the cargo section told a different story.
“Since January, business has been low. We carry goods all the time, we can tell when there is shortage. The difference is visible,” said one clearing agent.
He, however, adds that none of the almost 7,000 staff has been let go as at now, but the workload has drastically reduced.
“We were notified about the suspension of flights from China but we did not think business will be this slow. Usually we see a lot of meat going to Dubai but that is no more,” said another agent at the airport.
He said the workers are all uncertain about their future and can only hope the situation will improve and they will resume their usual workflow.
With the current lock-down in China, prices of goods are set to go higher, as businesses search for alternative source markets such as Brazil, the Netherlands and some African countries amid a stock-out.
According to the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (Kepsa), the country also faces reduced imports of crucial products including consumer and industrial products, motor vehicles, machinery, electronic equipment, appliances and accessories.
Workers at the airport collaborate this, saying although flowers are still being exported, the numbers have drastically declined.
In a survey done on 127 businesses from 17 sectors of the economy by Kepsa, 61 per cent of businesses reported an impact of Covid-19.
Kepsa said businesses had asked government for tax breaks as a mitigation measure.
China alone accounts for about 21 per cent of Kenya’s imports, meaning $3.66 billion (Sh366 billion) worth of products may need to be sourced elsewhere or substituted by local production due to Covid-19 disruptions.
However, Kepsa said the virus provided an opportunity for local industries to bridge the gap and said they were partnering with the government to remove bottlenecks to value addition and production.