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Traders count losses as Kenya relaxes wearing of face masks



By Judith Gicobi

Covid-19’s emergence in Kenya on March 12, 2020, signaled the start of sweeping economic changes across the country.

While the outbreak had a significant financial impact on some, others recognized immediate commercial opportunities and developed new revenue sources, such as selling face masks and sanitizers.

On April 3, 2020, amid the height of Covid-19 infections and hospitalizations in the country, the Ministry of Health enforced a countrywide mask mandate. The removal of the mandate to wear face masks in public, however, threatens to reverse the benefits, with many mask makers and suppliers incurring significant losses.

Wholesale mask sellers and producers, including local tailors, are concerned that the government’s decision to repeal a long-standing mandatory restriction in response to low Covid-19 positive rates may force them out of business.

The wholesalers, led by Peter Ng’ang’a, who owns a wholesale shop in Thika, Kiambu County, are straining to figure out where to put the big inventories that have piled up in their stores since Kenyans embraced a normal way of life — wandering freely without masks.

He claimed that he had just restocked his business a day before Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe revealed the move, and that his goods is worth over Sh200, 000.

The majority of mask dealers and manufacturers claim they got into the industry after being sacked from their previous jobs due to the pandemic, and that they have been completely reliant on the company for their existence. Rose Nduku, a retailer in the same county, said she was compelled to stay at home to look for another source of revenue because mask-selling was her family’s only income stream.

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“After l got fired following economic challenges brought about by Covid-19, I ventured in mask-selling business and with the review of the pandemic handling regulations; my business is no longer viable. I am now struggling to make ends meet,” she said

Although the Health CS recommended the use of masks during indoor activities to prevent the spread of the deadly disease, businesspeople in Kiambu County’s Thika, Juja, and Ruiru lamented the fact that Kenyans are rushing to adopt the new policy, resulting in a scarcity of face cloth.

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