By Adeolu Seyi-Smith
Job cuts, layoffs, wage cuts and employee redundancy have continued to exacerbate as the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues to disrupt social life, the economy and every other human activity across countries.
Hundreds of jobs have been wiped off like almost all the value chains including manufacturing, sales, and marketing, distribution, wholesale and retail, governance, aviation and tourism amongst others have been impacted negatively by COVID-19.
The aviation industry – one of the worst hit as a result of travel restrictions imposed by many countries – has recorded more job losses. For instance, WestJet has laid off 6,900 workers due to a downturn in business because of COVID-19. In a similar circumstance, Air Canada has put 600 pilots on compulsory unpaid leave pending improvement in the situation of things.
Coming home, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has estimated that the restriction on air travel by the federal government aimed at curtailing the spread of coronavirus would cost the aviation industry $434 million in revenue, 2,200 lost jobs, and loss of approximately 2.2 million passengers.
The Wall Street Journal put the U.S. job losses at around 5 million while experts have predicted that economic shortfall arising from the effects of COVID-19 could hit up to $1.5 trillion across the U.S. and a probable economic recession.
As travel bans and restrictions on large gathering and enforcement of social distancing amongst other preventive measures to curb the widespread of the deadly virus intensify, both the federal and state governments in Nigeria are even rolling out stricter measures to halt the spread, some of which may hurt more in the long run.
Given that the number of infected persons in Nigeria has risen significantly including the confirmed cases of high profile victims (a state governor, a top aide of the president and families of prominent Nigerians), it is pertinent to advise the government to exercise caution in pronouncing total lockdown or shutdown of the entire system especially the e-commerce operators that become the obvious lifesavers in time of lockdown.
Reasons include the fact that the Nigerian economy is largely driven by the informal sector. About 70 per cent of the working people earn daily wages, and total lockdown or shutdown will create ripple dysfunctions including worsening the current high unemployment level and inflation in the country. The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) reported a 33.5 per cent unemployment rate and inflation rate at 12. 2 per cent as of January 2020.
Countries like Nigeria whose economy depends largely on oil even face dire consequences amidst falling global oil price, which is around $25 per barrel, down from $65 at the start of the year. Credit rating agency Standards & Poor has even warned of a further slide in the oil price to $10 amidst falling demand for crude oil due to coronavirus. This can trigger job cuts, especially in the Nigerian public sector as the federating states depend largely on revenue allocation from the central government.
In spite of the gloom and impending recession staring us in the face, however, the e-commerce industry can help reflate the Nigerian economy at this time, especially if well leveraged to serve as a buffer for hunger, starvation and job creation as demand for essential daily needs rises and scarcity of goods and services loom in days ahead.
Logistics is a critical factor in lockdown or any emergency situation, which COVID-19 is heading to, if not urgently nipped in the bud. Thus, e-commerce platforms like Jumia, Jiji and Konga, amongst others, will enable Nigerians and other residents in the country to stay through this trying period.
In view of the rise in the number of infected persons, which may compel the government to declare a total lockdown or shutdown, or the elongation of the initial one-week that the Lagos State government has declared with effect from March 26, the surge in demand for food, toiletries and drugs in Nigeria is inevitable.
Certainly, sick people will need someone to get their prescribed drugs to them at home to prevent more deaths than COVID-19 would have caused. Families must restock as the supply of food and toiletries will run out someday soon, so they need to shop online and get their supplies delivered to their homes.
This is how the government and organizations in other climes are thinking, and Nigeria cannot be an exception. The good news, however, is that we have what it takes to respond to this challenge as appropriate.
For instance, Africa’s leading e-commerce platform, Jumia, has innovated food service that will be at full service to deliver healthy meals to people right in their homes and at the same time offer riders income on a daily basis while COVID-19 lasts.
It has also commenced its innovative “Contactless Safe Delivery” on the checkout pages of Jumia mall. The ‘contactless safe delivery’ option enables customers to make pre-paid orders for products on the platform and get them delivered without a direct body contact or cash exchange with the agents.
Jumia Nigeria CEO, Massimiliano Spalazzi, explained that the process is to help customers keep to safety and health-conscious directives in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. He said contactless promotes convenience, social distancing, and cashless measures are woven into one.
The availability of e-payment platforms including JumiaPay, EcobankPay, Paystark, Flutterwave, Opay, etc., will not only enable convenient shopping, efficient funds’ transfer as well as eliminate the risks of contracting coronavirus via physical cash exchange.
Tens of jobs will also be created as they partner with operators in the restaurant hospitality, pharmaceutical, essential daily needs sectors as a result of increased demands for these essential needs during coronavirus shutdown or lockdown.
Good examples abound in regards to what e-commerce like Jumia, Konga, Jiji, etc. can do to help in time of COVID-19. E-commerce platforms including Amazon, Walmart and Papa John’s to mention a few, have demonstrated innovation in this regard by hiring more people in the midst of COVID-19. Amazon has announced a plan to hire additional 100,000 full and part-time workers as it foresaw a surge in demand for food, toiletries, drugs and other essential daily needs as more people stay at home.
Walmart has also unveiled plans to hire 150,000 hourly workers for its stores and distribution centres through the end of May as online orders surge with households stocking up. Spokesman Dan Bartlett added that the temporary jobs may become permanent as the company was reaching out to industry groups in the restaurant and hospitality industries, which are also affected by lockdown and travel bans.
“Obviously, people are going to make more use of home deliveries, it makes perfect sense,” Dan Griswold, a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Centre said.
So, we can actually halt coronavirus from taking the shine off our active human and socio-economic ecosystem if we can push the frontiers of the e-commerce system to drive the vehicle for meeting the rise in demands for foods, water, toiletries, and drugs amidst COVID-19 pandemic.
*Seyi-Smith, a development economist, writes from Lagos