It’s a sad and shocking fact that the virus has already claimed the lives of at least six store owners and their colleagues – including Spar retailer Raj Aggarwal, who spoke to the BBC only last month about how his stores were coping with the pandemic. He, and the others who have died while simply doing their jobs, will be sadly missed.
For their sake, and for the sake of store workers across the country, it’s vitally important we do not now let down our guard. We must stay on top of social distancing measures, limiting the number of people in-store at any one time, installing screens, reminding customers to keep two meters apart, providing hand sanitizer or hand-washing facilities if possible, restricting opening hours if necessary. And our wholesalers, symbol groups, and suppliers need to do all they can to support such efforts.
The use of non-medical face masks also looks set to form part of the equation. Kenya’s Health CS Mutahi Kagwe already having recommended they be used when shopping, as is the case in countries such as Egypt where the lockdown has been eased. Although the scientific evidence remains uncertain, the wearing of masks by shoppers is likely to be reassuring for store owners and their staff.
For many shop workers, this has been an incredibly stressful time. One retailer told me last week that some had felt like “lambs to the slaughter” as they went about their work, especially in the earlier days of the crisis when customers were less accustomed to the distancing rules.
On the other hand, many are thankful to be working in an industry that is still open for business, especially if their partners have been furloughed or even laid off. One thing that will definitely come out of this crisis is a renewed appreciation of the workers in this sector.
As a Nakuru-based retailer, Joyce Njeru told me last week: “The way we have reacted and continued to run is not down to the owners, it’s down to the staff, and I’m sure every owner would say the same thing. The staff has been fantastic.”