Many businesses in Zimbabwe have wondered how Covid-19 would affect their operations. Businesses have had to consider different scenarios that could happen because of lockdowns or in the event of Covid-19 infecting their employees. For corner shop ‘2547’ , both scenarios have become a reality that they have had to deal with.
When Covid-19 first struck in March 2020 the country went into a lockdown for more than 5 months with only essential services such as grocery shops, government operated transport services, health facilities, and water, sanitation, and energy services left operating while other businesses and informal trade were shut down. The lockdown began to ease in August where we saw the gradual reopening of the rest of the economy as non-essential services reopened, curfew times were extended, intercity movement reopened, resumption of school, resumption of flights, and reopening of informal markets. Just as we thought we had turned a corner; the virus flared up again. As from the end of November 2020, the number of local infections has gone up exponentially and in January 2021 a fresh lockdown was put in place. This graph below reflects the income changes over time and shows the gradual growth of income with lockdown easing and with the highest month being December during the Christmas holidays. Unfortunately, the new lockdown imposed on January 5, 2021 has been taking its toll with incomes dropping alarmingly.
There has been an even more direct impact this time around which is illustrated by shop 2547. Shop 2547 is a restaurant that we have been tracking – amongst the 18 shops we are tracking in Zimbabwe – since April 2020. Before the second Covid-19 wave, business was beginning to stabilise from the calamitous effect of the previous lockdown. No sooner had the business recovered to profitable levels that it was hit again, this time very directly through the infection of one employee who tested positive on 30 November and has not been to work since as she has not fully recovered. This resulted in the loss of the businesses’ only till operator and a senior employee who had been with the family for many years. Due to her testing positive, the rest of the staff were tested as well, and two more employees tested positive and have undergone the mandatory days of self–isolation as from 7 to 22 December and are now negative and back at work. Effectively, the shop had lost a till operator, a cook and a butcher. For a small business as theirs, the loss could be felt. Even though other workers stepped up and took on more shifts, the restaurant still recorded a slight drop in income in December whereas other businesses in the study were making their highest incomes that month.
This graph above illustrates how the restaurant’s December income has fallen instead of being the highest due to the Christmas holidays, which is the biggest holiday period in the country. In addition, the new lockdown in January has had a crushing effect on the business. Although the shop manager feels that they have not faced any stigma, since it is known within the town that there have been Covid-19 cases at the restaurant, this is still a concern as the stigma may not be openly shown. The shop manager expects thought that since the community is aware that they have tested everyone and followed proper procedures, they will still trust the restaurant.
Outside of the Covid-19 infections, the shop has felt several other pinches with supply chains being disrupted due to new Covid-19 related regulations making it difficult to import cheaper raw materials from South Africa. For example, in making fresh chips, supplies such as potatoes and vinegar were cheaper to import from South Africa. One of the shops employees is asthmatic and finds it difficult to work with a face mask which means her productivity is affected. Additionally, the need for social distancing has also affected the number of tables that the business can pitch on the premises at any one time. Whereas in the pre-Covid-19 era the business could handle up to 60 customers at any one time, now it can only accommodate about a third to half of that at a time. However, even with those problems in place, the shop had managed to recover, and it seems that the most difficult times have been the hard lockdowns and Covid-19 infections.
A review of some of the expenses show the spikes in September and October when business was beginning to pick up followed by significant drops in December to January with the Covid-19 infections and a new lockdown in place. These spikes in raw materials, food at home, and salaries are in reflection of the increased income being received during those few months while the spike in toiletries expenses in December does reflect the additional response by the restaurant to protect themselves and their customers through improved hygiene. As the salaries graph reflects, the small business was forced to reduce salary payments during the first lockdown which helped lighten their burden but was much harder for their staff.
We continue to monitor the restaurant’s fortunes closely during this pandemic and hope that our findings can be both useful to the restaurant itself in its operations as well as to inform the larger public and policy makers of the impacts of the pandemic. We also hope that the findings will be useful to development strategies now and in the post Covid-19 era to bring businesses and communities to a normal again.
 Each participant in our study has a numeric research ID which makes it possible to study an individual participant with full anonymity of the respondent guaranteed.