By Nawara Fattahova
KUWAIT: A Western woman taking a private car “taxi” in Salwa to drive her to her destination is just one example of some businesses practiced unofficially due to the long coronavirus closure. According to the government’s plan for returning to normal life, resumption of taxi services is listed in the third phase – but it is not clear yet when exactly will it start.
Over 12,000 taxis in Kuwait are sitting idle, their drivers without income for more than three months. According to one report, taxi company owners in June claimed losses exceeding KD 32 million for the past three months. An estimated 250,000 people have lost their income or had their income slashed during the height of the lockdown, and only now are many returning to work. Thousands of small business owners continue to face uncertainty – their businesses remain closed with no idea when they might reopen.
Fortunately, some important businesses reopened with the beginning of phase two (June 30), including industrial and construction, maintenance, shipping and delivery, laundry, restaurants and café drive-thru, telecommunication companies, private clinics, retail stores and shopping malls, and car showrooms. Yet many other services are still waiting for the next phases to get back to work, and these include salons, health clubs, tailors, hotels, cinemas, taxis, public transportation, theatres, exhibitions, social occasions and restaurants and cafés for dine-in.
Many taxi drivers got paid only half their salaries or were not paid at all. “It’s been almost four months since I stopped working due to the pandemic. I’m staying at home and the taxi office is closed and all vehicles are parked there. I can’t risk working in my private car – because if I get caught by the police, I may get deported for the violation of transporting passengers. I thank God that the landlord waived half of my rent for the past three months, as I only received half my wage. At least my son received his full salary, so we could survive this crisis,” taxi driver Abu Mohammed told Kuwait Times.
This very long period of closure, as Kuwait is still in phase 2, forced many businesses to get around the rules and practice their business unofficially, although it is risky. Many salon staff including hairdressers, nail technicians, and others started delivering their services to the homes of their clients. Although this activity is illegal, they found it was the only way to resist the economic crisis.
Manayir, a salon owner, complained of having some of her clients telling her that a medical clinic is providing hair coloring, massage and even manicure and pedicure services. “I wonder how can a clinic practice these beautician services, while I have closed my salon respecting legal regulations. Also, another client told me that she went to a salon and had her hair done, despite the salon being closed,” she added.
Salons face more losses. “When I had to shut the salon in the beginning of March due to the pandemic precautions, I still had to pay my staff. The second month I was not able to pay them the full amount, so I paid them half the salary. Last month, one of the staff told me she wants to quit as she received an offer from another salon that offered her full salary to work in their salon, which has home service. My business is ruined and I think the government should review the opening of salons as all other countries did,” said Huda, a salon owner.
The government announced that the back to normal plan is based on the health situation in the country, as people’s health comes first. The COVID-19 pandemic in Kuwait is part of the worldwide pandemic of coronavirus (COVID-19) caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). The first confirmed case in Kuwait was announced on Feb 24, 2020.
As of July 13, there were 55,508 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 45,356 recoveries and 393 deaths. As a precautionary measure to control the spread of the virus, the government implemented strict measures including a total lockdown of the country, partial and total curfews, complete isolation of some areas and closing all businesses, apart from hospitals, pharmacies and supermarkets.
As part of the economic support was delaying the payment of installments by local banks, which helped many businesses but not all, as some businesses had loans with financing companies and not banks, such as taxi agencies. Also, the government issued a law to waive the rent for all businesses that were not being able to operate due to the pandemic.
Tailors were not mentioned specifically in the list of businesses and in which phase they should return to work. But all tailor shops are still closed, although textile shops are open. The closure affected most of these shops, while their customers depend on the tailors for their outfits. A municipal inspector told Kuwait Times that tailors are listed in the same category as salons, health clubs and personal care stores. So they will have to wait for the fifth phase, which is the last.
All businesses included in the future phases of the government’s plan to return to normal life are carefully watching any positive news of reopening earlier than what was set in the previously-prepared plan. Jobless expats face a hard situation, especially with landlords who haven’t waived or at least discounted the rent. Many are not paying the rent as the landlord cannot evict them due to the closure of the courts, but now with the courts open, landlords can file a case and make the tenant vacant his property.