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Prices of phones, computer parts, accessories rise on Coronavirus, China travel ban

The freeze on travel to and from China following the outbreak of Coronavirus is putting a toll on the ability of Nigeria’s technology supply market to bring in new hardware supplies.

Since the virus began to spread forcing the Chinese government to place travel restrictions, prices of computer parts, accessories and phones usually imported from China have risen sharply.

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A supplier at Saka Tinubu in Lagos, one of the major computer and phone markets in Nigeria, told BusinessDay that the suppliers have added between N4,000 and N5,000 to the price of their phones following the ban.

“Phones are not coming into the country for now, so the prices of the ones available have increased,” he told BusinessDay on condition of anonymity.

Chinese technology companies in Nigeria are also experiencing their share of service disruptions.
Joseph Adeola, public relations manager at OPPO Nigeria, told BusinessDay that the travel ban has affected operations in the country. OPPO Nigeria is the West African regional arm of the Chinese global smartphone and technology manufacturer OPPO.

First, the Coronavirus recently renamed Covid-19 by the World Health Organisation (WHO) started about the time of the Chinese New Year celebration. A number of the company’s staff travelled to mark the Chinese New Year. Due to the outbreak and the quarantine campaign declared by the Chinese government, many of these staff are unable to resume work. Adeola said as a result of the ban, they are unable to import any new products from China for the time being.

OPPO, along with other global manufacturers, has also been forced to pull out of the Mobile World Conference (MWC) slated for February in Barcelona. The programme was cancelled by the organisers, GSMA, on Thursday. Over 20,000 participants from China were expected to attend the programme which is a platform that big technology companies use to launch their latest innovations. Adeola said OPPO was preparing to launch one of its latest inventions.

“With due regard to the safe and healthy environment in Barcelona and the host country today, the GSMA has cancelled MWC Barcelona 2020 because the global concern regarding the Coronavirus outbreak, travel concern and other circumstances make it impossible for the GSMA to hold the event,” GSMA said in a statement.

The WHO defines Coronavirus as a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). A novel coronavirus (nCoV) is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans.

Since it broke out in the Wuhan state of China, 64,472 people have been affected while 1,384 have lost their lives. 7,182 people have also been successfully treated and declared free from the disease.

Egypt on Friday, February 14 confirmed a Coronavirus case, the first and only African country to have done so. The affected person was a foreigner who was immediately put into isolation. Nigeria and the rest of the continent are yet to report any case of the virus.

However, following its outbreak and spread, the Chinese embassy said on February 4 said it had stopped issuing visas to Nigerians until the virus is contained. Ambassador Zhou Pingjian also advised suspension of travelling to China.

Additionally, China’s effort at containing the spread of the virus means that factories in China as well as logistics and shipment suppliers have shut down.

“This means that African tech businesses that rely on imported resources from China will be mostly affected,” said Chuba Ezekwesili, co-founder and partner at Future Africa, a company that is democratising access to foreign investments in start-ups on the continent. “Investment deals into tech companies in Africa are likely to get affected as Chinese businesses turn inwards to tackle the fall-out of the virus.”

The second effect, for Ezekwesili, is that the general rise in prices of commodities will affect everyone including the tech space. Infrastructure projects are also likely to halt during this period, which will indirectly affect African tech businesses.

Beyond Africa, the Coronavirus-induced ban which also affects other continents has seen big tech companies like Facebook informing their customers that there will be difficulty in procuring tech products such as the Oculus Quest, as the Coronavirus would affect production of the virtual reality (VR) headset.

Tayo Fasunon, co-founder and director of Quadron Studios, told BusinessDay that the Oculus Quest is the most preferred VR headset in Nigeria. As of 1 January, the company had back-ordered the Quest till February.

“So this might mean that even if we got a new client right now, their headsets might not arrive anytime soon, which would in turn hamper our ability to deliver value to them,” Fasonun said.

The Oculus Quest released in 2019 is already out of stock in some regions, according to UploadVR, a VR news website.

Vinsight, a start-up that provides artificial intelligence-based glasses that help the visually impaired read and walk, told BusinessDay that it was also facing challenges with sourcing its hardware in China.

“As it is, we have to wait for the end of the virus before we get our supplies,” said a spokesperson for the start-up.

In the meantime, the first antiviral drug was given the green light to fight COVID-19 on Monday. The drug was domestically developed in China by Zheijiang Hisun Pharma Company.

 

FRANK ELEANYA

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