Phuentsholing, Chukha used to be the busiest commercial hub, as it borders India. The hustle and bustle of the border town, with thousands of people doing business, and transiting for vacation trips, have come to a standstill due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
With many people moving out of Phuentsholing, especially after the four-month long lockdown, many businesses are losing their customers and are closing down.
Many people have left Phuentsholing in search of jobs, and to open up their businesses in other dzongkhags. Some of them have even returned to their villages to try their hand at farming.
A business enterprise owner in Phuentsholing, Sonam Tshewang, said, “Now that my business has gone down, I am trying to look for shops who can buy things in larger quantities and at a wholesale rate. I am trying my best to keep my business alive.”
Sonam and his wife are both optimistic about staying back in Phuentsholing for now.
“However, if this continues then we might have to leave everything, forcefully,” he added.
A garment shop owner in Phuentsholing, Karma Dema, said that she bought the shop a year ago after she left an erratic private company job.
She said, “I was happy with my decision as my business was going well. I used to earn a minimum of Nu 10,000 in a day. But after four months of lockdown, the business is running under a loss.”
With only a few customers left in Phuentsholing, she hardly earns Nu 3,000 in a day, which is not enough to meet her monthly living expenses.
Likewise, Ugyen TCC Complex saw a sharp decline in the number of people coming in, which has affected their daily sales.
The hoteliers in Phuentsholing are also hoping to have things go back to normal. But for now, many of them are able to keep the hotels running as quarantine facilities.
Meanwhile, as per the data from Southern Taskforce, more than 9,000 people have been facilitated to low risk areas as of now, but they are not all in the stranded category as such. The numbers also include emergency travellers.
An official from the Southern Taskforce said, “Every week, around 250 to 300 number of routine travellers are sent to Thimphu and Paro for the 7-day quarantine. In the process, people who have registered to travel will have to wait for a maximum of 6 days.”
However, if it is urgent or an emergency, based on the documents, they are immediately quarantined in Phuentsholing, itself, so that they need not have to wait, he added.
He said that as the hotel structure is not designed as quarantine facility, therefore, there are many limitation in monitoring such structures.
“It was difficult to monitor the quarantine facilities. In few incidences, quarantined individuals tried to breach the quarantine protocols,” he said.
Nevertheless, he said that now with the completion of construction of 400-bedded facility at Amochhu, such loopholes will be closed.
The people under quarantine can cook their own meals and they can come out on the balcony within their own self-contained area in Amochhu. Some relaxation measure has been provisioned compared to the hotel facility. Self cooking also significantly reduces the waste generated by food wrappers, he said.
In the past, he said, “Stranded people were sent to Wangdue, Punakha and Haa for quarantine, given the shortage of facilities in Phuentsholing due to significant number of positive cases in the community.”
The newly constructed quarantine facility will accommodate a maximum of 400 foreign workers, which will help in addressing the backlogs and revival of economic activities, he added.