Empty streets even after the unlocking in Thimphu

Lockdown 2.0 hits small businesses hard

With the overall business sector seeing an unprecedented situation with lockdowns, various control measures and other policies coming into action due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of business owners are left wondering when and how will things go back in place.

 With the second lockdown gradually starting to unlock Thimphu and Paro the first week of relaxations in these mega zones started out with individuals being allowed to move on foot or bicycles from 5 am till 5pm.

Within these premise shops catering essential services like groceries, vegetables, livestock, dairy products and pharmacies are allowed so far.

However, a lot of other shops ranging from salons to restaurant are still paying the price of COVID-19 affecting their livelihoods.

 Although it is safe to assume for some of these owners that they would be allotted to open in the coming weeks considering that other Dzongkhags have been unlocked to that extent, few of them feel that it could be some time before they can make up for lost time.

 Owner of O Pizza Café at Changzamtog said that although the staff payments have been covered up by HM’s Relief Kidu, the concern remains mainly in terms of the huge rents that such shops have to pay.

He said, “Prior to the lockdown, we were able to at least compensate for the staff salaries and generated enough revenues for the rent.”

Reportedly, there were discussions among the building managers and others about some form of waiver for rent but that is not yet confirmed.

He is hopeful that if the café would be allowed to reopen sooner, he could perhaps make up for the rent, however, he would still have some backlogs in terms of payments given the hard run that the previous year had been.

Also, they had recorded feedbacks from customers on their products being pricier than before but he said that the factors that affected the prices were directly proportional to the increasing rates at the groceries and in purchasing the ingredients.

 Jina, operating a pan shop said, “Although my business is small and I do not have to pay salaries like big hotels or restaurants, I still have to pay Nu 12,000 as rent and rent for my home”

She said that being the only income source for her family, she could hardly earn enough even prior to lockdowns and closing the shop was never an option.

 Kezang Dema, who relies on selling momos and other eatables, feels that with the current situation people have almost completely restricted themselves from travelling outside. She said that even with unlocking in the mega zones fewer people seem to be moving around and she wonders if she can sell even half of what she could before the second lockdown.

She had recently applied for the Kidu grant and received the same for her first month.

 Sonam Dema said, “Until recent times I was working with the Build Bhutan project but as the work has currently stopped, our family has not been able to pay the rent for about 2 months.”

She said that her husband who used to be the sole earner for the family selling local eatables like thukpa and bathub too had been out of business and currently they are running low on even essential items at home.

The family is hopeful that if the vehicles are allowed to move about within the zones, they could at least cater to the customers’ requirements through Facebook advertisements and deliveries for their customer.

 Chairman of the Hotels and Restaurants Association of Bhutan (HRAB) Sonam Wangchuk said that this time around the main concern for hotels and restaurant lies in what the local market will be like.

The Chairman said, “During the months of May, June last year, hotels were only sustaining because of quarantine facilities.”

He said that after the recent lockdown in Thimphu and Paro, local domestic tourists would be even more reluctant and there would hardly be any scope for business.

 He said, “How much will the unlocking benefits these businesses can only be determined looking at the situation once they are allowed to operate.”

 The Chairman assumes that chances are quite bleak for any real business activity even with the unlocking, however he is hopeful that the situations turn out to be for the better.

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