Feature: Kenya's public transport operators eye revival amid relaxed COVID-19 restrictions

2021-05-03 17:30:48 GMT2021-05-04 01:30:48(Beijing Time) Xinhua English

NAIROBI, May 3 (Xinhua) -- Cyrus Adika was taking a stroll at a crowded sidewalk in Kenya's coastal city of Mombasa Saturday when news broke that President Uhuru Kenyatta lifted cessation of movement in Nairobi and four other counties deemed COVID-19 hotspots.

The middle-aged bus operator received the news with excitement after enduring more than one month of reduced business activity that depleted his savings.

Adika said the lockdown placed on Nairobi and the counties of Kajiado, Nakuru, Kiambu and Machakos on March 26 to help curb the spread of coronavirus resulted in significant losses for public transport operators.

"The lockdown caught us by surprise and impacted negatively on bus operators plying Mombasa to Nairobi and the entire mainland. We have suffered financial losses since the lucrative destinations were placed on a lockdown," Adika said in a recent interview.

He said the reopening of the five counties that had been classified as disease infected zones will revitalize transport business that is integral to Kenya's economic growth and job creation.

"We have already made plans to shuttle passengers and cargo from Mombasa to Nairobi. The unrestricted movement will revive our business and hopefully restore our financial health after weeks of operating on a shoestring budget," said Adika.

He said that transport operators in the coastal region had to devise innovative ways to withstand the financial hardship occasioned by new COVID-19 restrictions like lockdowns and extension of curfew hours.

"Some bus owners shuttled a limited number of passengers and cargo within the coastal region to remain afloat. Exploring new and shorter routes was an innovative way of sustaining our visibility," said Adika.

President Uhuru Kenyatta during his Labor Day address to the nation Saturday announced lifting of cessation of movements to the capital Nairobi and four counties that had earlier been placed on a lockdown amid surging coronavirus infections and deaths.

The Kenyan leader said suspending the lockdown and relaxing some other restrictions was informed by a drop in new infections in the zoned counties.

"After one month of lockdown, COVID caseload within the zoned area has come down by 72 percent. In other areas of the republic, COVID caseload fell by 89 percent in Mombasa and 90 percent in western Kenyan county of Busia between March and April 2021," said Kenyatta.

He warned the public against complacency since the country was yet to flatten the COVID-19 curve, adding that an uptick could force the government to re-impose stringent containment measures.

Adika and his transport operator peers said they would adhere to public health protocols aimed at curbing the spread of coronavirus since their industry had borne enough brunt of lockdowns and curfews.

"We thank the president for reopening the country once more and will support the government's efforts to combat COVID-19 pandemic through mandatory wearing of masks and sanitizing of hands by our passengers," said Adika.

James Nyamu, an employee of bus company Simba Coach, said lifting of cessation of movements marked the end of month-long hardships endured by public transport operators.

"It was a great relief to learn that the president had reopened travel to Nairobi and we are hoping an end to financial ruin is in sight," said Nyamu. "We are ready to resume normal operation along the Mombasa-Nairobi route, regain our financial position and recall some employees who were laid off during the lockdown."

He said that fiscal incentives like lowering of taxes on diesel and spare parts will help transport operators revive their businesses and clear outstanding bank loans.

Bernard Okemwa, a tuk tuk (three-wheeled motor vehicle used as a taxi) driver who operates within Mombasa, said he suffered losses during the lockdown in Nairobi and other upcountry counties that provide bulk of his clients.

"I'm now grateful to the president for lifting the lockdown in Nairobi where most of my customers come from and I look forward to a prolonged normalcy," said Okemwa, adding that small business owners in Mombasa who have borne the brunt of COVID-19 restrictions since last year were looking forward to brisk activities amid revival of travel and tourism sectors.

Dorash Abdul, a public transport operator based in Mombasa, said that suspension of lockdowns in Nairobi and adjoining counties will pave way for revival of an industry that is a major employer of Kenyan youth.

"I want to thank the president for reopening Nairobi and four other counties and am optimistic the move will lead to revival of the transport sector that employs more than three million youth in this country," said Abdul. Enditem