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Business slowly picks up as Covid-19 cases lower

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As Covid-19 cases are declining in the country, with the government and some of its regional counterparts easing lockdown restrictions, businesses are slowly picking up.

Local cross-border traders, for instance, have started travelling to some parts of the region, especially Malawi’s key traditional trading ally South Africa, for business.

Spot checks in major cities of the country also revealed that merchandise business was slowly picking up compared to the case some two months ago when the pandemic was at its peak.

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Commentators are projecting continued stability of business in the short to medium terms but with caution.

In an interview on Monday, Malawi Confederation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (MCCCI) Director of Business Environment and Policy Advocacy, Madalitso Kazembe, however, said most businesses continued to face myriad challenges ranging from liquidity constraints due to suppressed demand and reduced export receipts.

“…high cost of doing business is another impact that has emanated from the Covid-19 pandemic such as higher cost of imported raw materials which has resulted in higher production costs, shortage of manufactured goods and both raw materials and finished products due to shortage of foreign exchange,” Kazembe said.

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Hospitality and tourism is one of sectors of the economy to be hard-hit by the pandemic.

In a separate interview, Sunbird Tourism Limited Chief Executive Officer, Yusuf Olela, said business had picked up slightly since September but was still low that the volume could hardly sustain the business.

He said city hotels are operating below 25 percent of capacity while resorts are operating above 30 percent with some good pick-up due to conferences.

“During normal period, the occupancy rate could have been averaging 58 percent but, at the moment, it is below 35 percent and this trend will continue to 2021 with our international source market going into the second wave of Covid-19.

“Locally, most of the offices are re-opening but have scaled down on activities, which is also affecting our business. Looking ahead, the depressed economic activities due to impact of Covid-19 will prolong the recovery period for the tourism sector. The resumption of flights is good news but even the resumption is for few days in a week and the fact that South African Airways is still grounded is hitting the country as a destination negatively,” Olela said.

Cross-Border Traders’ Associations of Malawi President, Esther Tchukambiri, said most small-scale traders were operating between Malawi and Zambia.

About 90 percent of the traders ply their trade in South Africa.

Tchukambiri then urged the authorities to engage counterparts in Mozambique and Zimbabwe to ensure the Beitbridge route cleared for business resumption.

National Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (Nasme) Chairperson, William Mwale, said Covid-19 restrictions brought fear to the country, leading to a nosedive of most businesses.

He, however, said there was hope that businesses might pick-up strongly during the festive season and going into 2021.

“Government and financial institutions should deliberately infuse cash into rural areas for economic revitalisation that can cushion the long term Covid-19 negative impacts. Business communities should be given soft loans,” Mwale said.

Borders and airports are now re-opening in most countries where there was lockdown within the region.

Both Kamuzu and Chileka international airports in the country have also resumed operations following almost six months of closure

Malawian Airlines spokesperson, Joseph Josiah, said: “for this year though IATA traffic projection has it that traffic will slightly pick up by mid to late next year,” Josiah said.

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