Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

It may take a long time for Phuentsholing to return to pre-pandemic times, but without a single community case for the last 67 days since August 12, the journey has already begun.

There are more people in the town, especially during the weekends.

Although students from Classes IX to XII have been shifted to Punakha, all schools have opened and more than 2,500 students studying in Pre-Primary to Class VIII levels are attending regular classes. 

All games and sports, including those indoors, have resumed. Swimming pools, which had been closed since the first lockdown, have opened.

Businessmen also say they have started to recover, but they are still reeling from the impact of the last lockdown.

A micro-shop owner, Ratna Subba, said she was able to pay her overdue rent only a few days ago.

“She said that it is difficult to even think about the last lockdown in Phuentsholing. “Only the affected areas should be cordoned off and marked,” she opined.

Although it is not as bad as the time right after the relaxation in August this year, a restaurant owner, Sarita Gurung said there still aren’t many people in the town.

“Recently, there were more people in the town because of the dusshera festive mood,” she said.   

“Otherwise, the number keeps fluctuating. Sundays are good.”

As per official records, more than 8,000 people have left Phuentsholing since the lockdown started in mid-April through today. However, that figure includes many who were stuck in Phuentsholing during the lockdown, including those who left temporarily, for official purposes and other reasons, and have since returned to Phuentsholing.

A shopkeeper, Namgay, said most people who have left Phuentsholing may not return. “Those who left and returned are people who had businesses here or those who are permanent residents,” he said.

Namgay stays in the core town area, which was most affected during the lockdown. “When there were community cases near our building, we were not even allowed to come out on the balcony…However, the cases kept on emerging despite people being inside their homes.”

He opined that the last lockdown in Phuentsholing was like “torture.” 

A businessman said that Phuentsholing’s economy will take many years to recover. “If there are people in the town today, they are from Samtse. Phuentsholing won’t boom again until the seven days’ quarantine is lifted.”

He said that while no one wants to spread the virus, the seven days’ quarantine and the Sorchen driver-switching point should be lifted when there are no community cases. 

“People should be able to move after doing RT-PCR. It’s much affordable even for the government. The same protocol could be resumed if there is an outbreak.”

The businessman was of the opinion that if the border areas are properly monitored, there wouldn’t be any need for the seven days’ quarantine.

Testing and inspection

Every day, hundreds of people from select areas are tested for Covid-19.

On October 18, a total of 293 samples were collected from flu clinics, quarantine facilities, and enhanced surveillance areas (ESA). No community cases were reported.  

Four samples were received from Samtse, 15 from Sipsu, 42 from Lhamoizingkha. Officials said all tested negative.

Authorities are also conducting rigorous checking in the town. Police personnel are listing the names of those who are not complying with the protocols.

As per the Southern Covid-19 Task Force (SC19TF), Phuentsholing residents “comply well on the use of facemasks.” However, there are still a few residents who don’t use facemasks properly.

On October 18, RBP recorded four individuals for improper use of facemasks in the town. On October 14, RBP recorded 19 people for improper use of facemasks in the town, and the majority were at the lower market. 

The Regional Inspection Team (RIT) also carried out a surprise inspection of driver switching and trans-shipment areas at Sorchen. Five operators of the heavy vehicles were found not to have been tested for Covid-19 within 14 days.

Edited by Tashi Dema