Kenya is feeling the economic effects of the coronavirus, despite having no infections, as imports from China fall because of travel bans for people and goods.

Airlines are incurring losses, and small traders in Kenya said they fear their stocks will soon run out, putting them out of business.

There is little activity these days at a container terminal in the Kenyan port of Mombasa.

The coronavirus outbreak has brought shipments from China to a halt. Kenya’s small traders depend on manufactured goods from China that are normally unloaded at this port.

Samuel Karanja heads the 50,000-member Importers and Small Traders Association of Kenya.

Sizable price increases

“We’re going to see a hike of the price of some commodities, two or three times than what we are paying for,” Karanja said. “The reason we go to China is because of the cost, the value for our money. So, you can have several goods for the same price, not compromising the quality but at very good rates. We are not going to find this anywhere in the world.”

Karanja said consumer goods such as electronics, clothing and cosmetics are the first to feel the pinch.

While Kenyan traders scramble for other suppliers, the coronavirus keeps spreading and having an impact.

Winnie Gathoni, owner of a small cosmetics shop in Nairobi, is counting the last lipstick tubes from China she still has for sale.

“Maybe in about two months or so, we will basically close down, yes,” Gathoni said.

It’s a similar situation at a Nairobi electronics store. Abu Bakr Kareem, a father of three, says his stock of Chinese-made phones is almost sold out.

“If the virus goes on the way it is now, people are going to be affected well,” Kareem said. “Also, my family, other families.”

Vital to economy

Kareem’s shop is among the thousands of small businesses that authorities say provide more than 80% of Kenya’s employment.

Yet, the coronavirus outbreak has created a boom for one business in Kenya — shops selling face masks. Stephen Mbugwa manages the Nairobi Safety Shop.

“In the last two weeks we have dispatched hundreds of thousands,” Mbugwa said. “The most common demanded one is the drip plié. This drip plié is the one that almost everyone is looking for.”

Since even these face masks are made in China, they too will run out.

Meanwhile, Kenya’s Ministry of Health is preparing for a coronavirus outbreak, says ministry official Rashid Aman.

“We have a very active emergency operation center at our department of surveillance and response that responds to any suspected cases or other alerts,” Aman said.

As Kenya prepares for a possible outbreak, the country’s traders can only hope that the virus is contained soon so that imports from China can resume and they can get back to business as usual.