By Vivian Sequera

CARACAS (Reuters) – Delivery services have become one of the few employment opportunities for Venezuelans living under a coronavirus quarantine in a country already struggling with a recession, hyperinflation and fuel shortages.

From merchants who once sold goods in shops to former taxi drivers who no longer have passengers, citizens desperate to put food on their tables are now delivering everything from meat and vegetables, to dog food and home decoration items.

And unlike people in most other countries, Venezuelans making deliveries have to struggle with acute gasoline shortages that can require hours in line and, in some cases, have led workers to shun motorcycles and cars in favor of bicycles.

“I was left without a job because of the quarantine,” said Jesus Villamizar, 43, a motorcycle taxi driver who on Tuesday began making deliveries for a department store that also supplies food products. “I have to find food for the home.”

Villamizar, a father of three, says he needs to make around 1 million bolivars ($7.50) per day to provide for his family in a country with annual inflation of 3,365%.

Venezuelan commerce association Consecomercio, which represents about 15,000 businesses, says it does not have an estimate of how many businesses have started using deliveries to replace in-person sales lost to quarantine.

Consecomercio president Felipe Capozzolo said in an interview that such services are available only to “two or three percent of the population,” because products delivered to the home tend to be much more expensive than what the average consumer can afford.

In the northern city Valencia, Jose Luis Ortiz began doing shopping for friends and delivering the products to their homes to make up for lost income after his electronics equipment store was shut due to the quarantine.

“I had to invent something to survive,” said Ortiz, 37.

Sergio Dos Santos, owner of a hamburger and hot dog shop in the southeastern state of Bolivar, said home deliveries had saved his business from going under even though few had used the service before the quarantine.

“We are living off delivery,” said Dos Santos, 45, whose drivers charge two to five dollars for each dropoff.

Reinaldo Rodriguez, owner of a pizzeria and ice cream parlor in the town of San Felipe who also cycles as a hobby, has begun delivering food and medicine with 12 fellow cyclists – a service he markets over Instagram.

“People who think a businessman like myself can go for a long time without producing have never put themselves in my shoes,” said Rodriguez, 34, who has four children 37 employees whose salaries he continues to pay. “Venezuelan merchants only make it by selling every day.”

(Reporting by Vivian Sequera, writing by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Bernadette Baum)