Malls, sites worse hit as COVID-19 ravages cities

Government has been told that its shut-down order on businesses because of coronavirus pandemic could hit the construction industry, leaving in its wake alot of consequences.

President, Nigeria Institute of  Building (NIOB),  Kunle Awobodu, said activities at most sites would be reduced drstically given that the order allows only 20 persons.

He pointed out that Covid-19 has made construction professionals to be cautious to preserve their lives.

He said: “Some not-too-urgent works will be postponed while those at the critical stage of completion may be lost or the cost varied when the lock-down is over. The virus has, indeed, dealt a blow on the sector because the construction job is mostly done on site and there must be physical presence on site; it is only the design stage that is done in the office. To save ourselves and our workers, we will rather choose the path of safety by not venturing out. We can only hope that it will be contained quickly. If not, it will lead to capital loss.”

Awobodu added most construction materials used in Nigeria are imported from China where the Coronavirus originated. “The metal doors, railings, windows, sanitray wares and a lot of other things that have to do with construction is got there and now it’s unimaginable importing these things from there or indeed from other endemic countries. Again, building materials, shops and warehouses will remain empty, the chain of effects is unimaginable,” he said.

He observed that Europe had embargoed flights from some countries. He regretted that for construction experts in Nigeria, there is no place to get building and construction materials even if they manage to get to site.

He listed  many lessons to be learnt by our policy makers, such as the need for the country to be self- sufficient in the manufactuering of  building and construction materials.

He said: “There is the urgent need to invest outside the oil and gas sector. Before now, oil sold for about $60, now it hovers around $25 or less, well below the cost of production. The scenario will not only affect the construction but all sectors of the economy if it does not abate.”

Furthermore, he said as a result of the premium placed on health and safety in the industry and the need to protect workers, it has become a challenge for operators to procure the device used in temperature monitoring. He said what was readily available were sanitisers, which are not enough protection against Covid-19.

On other challenges the virus has caused in the sector, he said transporting workers to sites was one because of the need to maintain a safe distance and also not to cluster people above the approved number.

According to him, travelling on a public bus has become a challenge, too. ‘’So, if we can’t get to the site, contracts already signed would be delayed and new ones cannot be signed,’’ he lamented.

He warned that if the scourge was not arrested quickly, it might lead to loss of capital and abandoned buildings and construction sites.

Also, he said money already paid to workers and artisans might have been spent with the jobs not, thereby done leading to losses.

“Any money given to them to do a particular job may be difficult to retrieve as they would have expended it. The challenge has also affected events and programmes planned. For instance, we had a workshop planned nationwide on professional development. But, unfortunately, we had to cancel it. It is best imagined the quantum of energy and resources that went into the planning, but unfortunately, it  cannot be actualised.”

Awobodu said debts would pile up. However, he warned that employers would have no option but to shut their operations and lay-off their staff members.

Chairman, Society  for Professional Valuation, Shola Enitan said the effect of Covid-19 would be massive on real estate, especially the commercial real estate and public buildings. He predicted the reduction in pedestrian traffic and ‘foot falls’ – a measurement of the number of people that visit malls and shops. He said this would, invariably, limit the request for commercial buildings.

According to him,  as a result of the fear and the need for  social distancing, online e-commerce would increase  as a stop gap for the reduction in foot falls and pedestrian traffic. In offices, there will be increased sensitivity and people will be encouraged to work from home. As it stands, the pressure to acquire office spaces is reduced leading to a sharp drop in prices, Enitan added.

He said buildings for health-related manufacturing would receive a boost because they would be doing a lot more manufacturing of essential drugs, while the demand for buildings and houses for clinics, hospitals, isolation centres will increase.

He said: “Those in the higher strata of the society will isolate more and and avoid big hotels and restaurants, either for seminars, workshops or relaxation while those in the lower strata will continue visiting the bukas as they really have no choice and must go out daily to survive. The impact really will be largely on retail commercial properties that take a lot of people for conferences, theatres and shopping.”

Enitan urged the government to work assidously to ensure that the scourge is curtailed to not only preserve lives but also the real estate and construction sector which is a huge employer.

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