As Kenya announced its first case of Covid-19 infection on Friday, the country was already reeling from the worst ever performance at the port of Mombasa to date, with the lowest arrivals of ships and cancellation as countries around the world tightened travel to contain the pandemic.
So far, the port has received cancellation notice of 37 ships that were scheduled to call this month, while the fate of 104 others remains uncertain.
Kenya Ports Authority managing director Daniel Manduku said even the few vessels that called at the port earlier in February, reported such low volumes affecting cargo throughput.
The KPA boss said although they were yet to quantify the business loss, if the pandemic is not contained soon, they expect a further reduction in the number of vessels, especially from China.
However, starting this week, China has recorded minimal new infections and factories are reopening around the country. Unfortunately, this is happening as the first virus casualty is being reported in Kenya and scores of others around the continent.
China is Kenya's single largest source market, accounting for about a fifth of its annual total imports.
Chinese imports to Kenya in January-November 2019 amounted to $32.5 million, or 20.3 per cent of $16 billion import bill, slightly lower than $34.6 million in 2018 on reduced imports of machinery for the Standard Gauge Railway.
"Kenya receives more than 40 per cent of its imports from China and considering shipping is a global trade, it has affected a number of transshipment vessels and the results a dire in the business," he said.
Kenya Importers and Small Trader's Association chief executive officer Samuel Karanja said that they have lost almost $300 million since the outbreak as goods are stuck in China.
Speaking to The EastAfrican, Dr Manduku said the loss of business has been felt down the supply chain, with the worst hit being the SGR rail freight services operating directly from the port.
"In February, we recorded a number of ships but most of them recorded blank arrivals meaning they docked with fewer containers than expected. This month we are most hit by the Covid-19, which is now a global pandemic," said Dr Maduku, describing the situation as unexpected and the worst ever in KPA's history.
Kenya is a regional transportation hub, serving as an entry point for imports into regional landlocked countries such as Uganda, Rwanda, South Sudan, Burundi and DRC, slowdown in port activity is bound to be felt across the borders.
With the reported case of Covid-19 in the country, Kenya might fail to meet its revenue target forcing it to seek alternative funds to repay the loan.
Making matters worse, the new cruise ship terminal at the port of Mombasa rehabilitated at a cost of $300 million, has suspended operations as KPA management put in place measures to protect staff and port users.