These are certainly unprecedented times, with most of the world in lockdown to try and stop the spread of the coronavirus. While this is certainly necessary to try and reduce the number of infections and fatalities, it has had a huge impact on businesses the world over. Any company or business which relied on people stepping out of their homes to make purchases has been decimated, with many having to shut down either temporarily or even permanently, and many others cutting wages and laying off staff to cope with the drastic fall in demand. As such, the role of online services has never been more important, with many businesses turning to the internet to continue their operations and thereby be able to survive this crisis.
This is exactly the case in Zimbabwe. As with most other developing countries, Zimbabwe’s economy is mostly informal, with that part of the economy coming to a complete halt due to the restrictions in place at the moment. However, there has been an unexpected surge for certain sectors which operate online, most notably the online grocery sector. The number of orders being placed for online delivery of everyday grocery items has shot through the roof, with most people wary of stepping out. Grocery firms have thereby invested in drivers, transport and warehousing capabilities to meet this rise in demand, and most of them have reported healthy operations, despite the lockdown now nearing two months in the country.
This is not the only sector doing well in these times. One of the biggest ‘beneficiaries’ of the lockdown has been the online entertainment sector. Streaming services such as Netflix have seen a huge jump in subscribers, as more and more people log on to such services as they are stuck inside their homes with nothing to do. Another area which is extremely popular is online gaming. Many gaming providers and websites have been running offers to attract more and more customers during this time, with some developers even giving away games for free to help out customers during this time. It is a similar story for the gambling sector as well. With live casinos, of the physical variety, having to shut due to lockdown restrictions, many gambling operators have gone online, providing casino games, slot machines, lottery games and roulette online for patrons and customers to stay occupied and have a slice of the casino experience from their homes, without having to endanger themselves and others by stepping out.
It remains to be seen as to how long this current situation will carry on. However, it does not look like abating any time soon, with a vaccine at least a year away and there also being fears of a second wave of the virus in the latter half of the year. Keeping all this in mind, it would be prudent and safe to keep lockdown measures in place for as long as possible, but at the same time, it is extremely important to provide economic support to businesses and individuals who have been adversely affected by the crisis. While providing services online can help mitigate some of the issues faced by businesses, the vast majority of companies and establishments do not have that option. Further, in countries like Zimbabwe, a lot of establishments do not even have the technology or manpower to implement digital solutions, even if their businesses may be suited to going online. The government must therefore provide such solutions at the earliest, to support those who are suffering because of the lockdown and cannot make ends meet.