It was about a week ago when Kenya confirmed its first case of the highly contagious coronavirus (COVID-19) that has swept through 170+ countries across the globe, leaving bodies in its wake.
Currently, the confirmed COVID-19 cases in Kenya are up to seven and the country has since adopted measures to prevent further spread. From travel restrictions and street disinfection to school closure, work-from-home arrangements and the banning of public gatherings, Kenya is on high alert.
But the downside to these social distancing efforts is that many people now have their sources of livelihood threatened.
While grocery stores and e-commerce/delivery platforms are among those that have benefitted from mankind’s primordial instinct to prioritize the bare essentials needed for self-preservation, some other businesses have suffered.
And one of those businesses worse hit by the ‘COVID-19-enforced holiday’ is taxi-hailing companies like Uber which is reportedly doing 70 percent fewer trips in cities worse hit by the pandemic. It goes without saying that drivers on ride-hailing platforms are having a nightmare.
In Kenya where there between 6,000-10,000 taxi-hailing drivers on platforms like Uber, Bolt, Little and others, things have gone sour. Drivers report very low patronage due to the fact that people are just keen on moving around at the moment. One Uber driver told us that business has gotten so bad, sometimes one trip is all she gets to do in a day.
“Business has gone completely gone down,” she says. “Very bad because people/clients are very scared. No or less movement.”
She adds, “Every day you wake up with hopes that you will get clients but it turns out to be the opposite. It is really hard for us. You fuel the car and you end up not getting any returns. You can go for one trip in a day.”
Nderitu, an Uber Kenya driver who is in his mid-20s, told WeeTracker that “things have been very terrible it [COVID-19] has brought many disadvantages.”
“There has been slow movement of requests in surge areas where initially it was very fast and effective,” he laments.
“In this case, every trip you value it because the number of trips has reduced with a very big difference.”
Two other Uber drivers who asked that their identities be protected echoed those very words. According to them, “business is bad because movement has really slowed down.”
Not that this is unexpected. It’s a tumultuous time for the world. There have been over 200,000 confirmed COVID-19 infections reported globally and the number of lives lost to the virus has gone past 8,000.
Not much is known about the virus at the moment, but it is known to be highly contagious and easily transferable from within a few feet of an infected person. This is why people are not exactly keen on getting into a car with a stranger at this time. Not that the drivers aren’t scared themselves.
Drivers are understood to be avoiding airports as they try to steer clear foreign nationals and even Kenyans who seem to have just arrived from some other continent.
This may not be unconnected to the fact that Kenya’s index COVID-19 case was actually a Kenyan national who had arrived from the United Kingdom only a few days before.
Nderitu told us that he now only drops people off at the airport and doesn’t pick passengers from the airport.
To stay safe, drivers of ride-hailing platforms in Kenya are taking steps to protect themselves and their passengers too, though it’s more of a 50-50 situation at best.
As Rahab puts it, “I am scared. I’m using hand sanitizer and I clean my car every day and sanitize it more frequently.”
On his part, Nderitu said it is a very tricky situation and a very scary one too, but he’s taken the step of keeping two hand sanitizers in his car which he uses frequently.