Social distancing, working remotely, cashless transactions and  lockdown – these are just some of the new terms that we are now familiar with and use daily as we discuss the coronavirus pandemic. However,  how much sense do they make in Africa, where many people live hand to mouth in an informal economy?

With the pandemic now taking hold in Africa and the reality of millions of job losses and little fiscal support to small and medium enterprises, the continent is feeling the heat.

On a tour of Nairobi’s Central Business District on Tuesday, several things stood out. Kenyans have largely embraced the new rules on containing the spread of COVID -19 – no handshakes, almost everyone we saw had a face mask on, and there are several hand washing stations across the city.

However, something else stood out, most restaurants have closed down. Those that are operating have their seats on top of the tables – all of them upside down.

Taking a stroll inside Beneve Foods along the busy Koinange Streets, the noise of clients chatting to each other over a cup of Kenyan tea has been replaced by silence. Under the Public Health Emergency laws that took effect in Kenya a month ago, restaurants can only offer take away services.

Supervisor at the restaurant, Anne Njeri,  says this has made business slow and low.

A COVID-19 community mobility report, a survey conducted by Google indicates that between February 16 and March 29, retail chains, restaurants, as well as recreation facilities in Kenya registered a 45% drop in visits, while those in South Africa had a 76% drop in visits, a 64% drop in Uganda and 60% reduced mobility in Rwanda as governments enforced strict measures on social distancing.

Now traders are counting their losses. Njeri says they cannot to afford to pay rent and staff.

The World Bank has warned that growth in Sub Saharan Africa has been hit by the coronavirus pandemic and will fall sharply from 2.4% in 2019 to -2.1 to -5.1% this year.

This, the bank says is the region’s first recession in 25 years.

With trade value chain disruptions, reduced remittances and massive job losses, the continent is now seeking an initial $100 billion as an economic stimulus package, which is expected to rise to $200 billion according to economic experts. The African Union has called for bilateral debt relief to both low income and middle income countries.

Caught between the fast spreading pandemic and millions of hungry citizens, some African countries have joined the rest of the world in putting in place movement restrictions. A tough choice, in a continent where two thirds of urban employment is in the informal sector.

Yet with infections in Africa now just over 15 000, lockdowns are likely to increase and persist, disrupting more livelihoods on the continent.