Small businesses are feeling the pinch almost two weeks after the government tightened restrictions including reducing working hours and forcing restaurants to offer only take away services.
Many are struggling to pay rent and other operational costs under the current restrictions.
Many shop owners who did not quit had either scaled down or transitioned into new business lines to cope but have now been forced to shut down or suspend operations.
While the restrictions may have contributed to the successful suppression of the virus, same restrictions have hit business operations hard. So far all businesses say lockdown measures have reduced business activity by more than half.
And micro and small businesses that are mostly owned by women appear to be disproportionately affected compared with medium and large firms. Consequently, a majority of micro and small businesses, particularly in the service sector, predict they might permanently close if the current restrictions are maintained.
Unemployment will likely worsen if the risks associated with Covid-19 persist and containment measures are sustained.
While the government set up a Special Economic Fund to assist businesses to cope with revenue losses, many micro and small businesses do not meet the set criteria and conditions to access the loans.
There is a need to intervene to support these micro and small businesses before it is too late to avoid permanent closures.
Commercial banks should consider proactively providing emergency loans to micro and small businesses with flexibility in repayments.
Small and micro businesses play a critical role in employing thousands of Rwanda who eke out a living from profits earned. It is against this backdrop that the government and financial institutions should find it necessary bailout package to keep these businesses afloat given that Covid-19 and new normal is here stay for some time.
Telecom companies can also work with banks to simplify loan application processes and reduce turnaround times to issue credit using mobile money.
In order to free up more cash for businesses, the government may consider reducing tax rate reductions including taxable income, offering tax credit, offering tax refunds as well as paying all the outstanding arrears against supplies made to the government.
Finally, given that nobody knows when the pandemic will end, and access to vaccines is still limited, there is a need for a more pragmatic approach to ensure business continuity. Interventions are needed to help businesses to continue to operate and adapt to the post-Covid-19 environment.
It is good news that some entrepreneurs have already seen silver lining in the lockdown and health protocols that have been put in place to check spread of the virus to make a kill. Such entrepreneurship skills should be encouraged to reduce sufferings of Rwandans who lost jobs and markets when the pandemic struck.
This will help contribute to preserving jobs and mitigating the loss of businesses that can help drive economic recovery.