Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

A recent survey of the business establishments in Phuentsholing showed that 74 percent of businesses in Phuentsholing follow the Covid-19 protocols mandated by the Southern Covid-19 taskforce.

As part of the day-long sensitisation and awareness programme on the Omicron variant and related Covid-19 safety protocols, 12 teams surveyed 572 shops, restaurants, and salons in the town.

These business establishments were inspected because they are considered high-risk areas since they come in contact with people every day.

Out of the 493 owners counted, 81 percent of them were found wearing surgical facemasks, out of which 66 percent were with three-ply masks.

Paan shops had poor compliance with safety protocols

Paan shops had the least compliance with the Covid-19 safety checklist with only 65 percent compliance, followed by photo labs (67 percent) and garment shops (69 percent). Over 74 paan shops were inspected.

Under this, the business community has approximately 84 percent compliance in ventilation adequacy, and 75 percent on hand washing. Only 28 percent of the businesses had signage encouraging people to leave the shop as soon as the shopping was done, and 43 percent had mechanisms to monitor safety compliance of staff and customers.

Most businesses (97 percent) used electronic transaction services.


Issues reported by business communities and recommendations

Several business firms have pointed out that they have a large amount of inventory, worth Nu 2.5 million (M), of spongy export quality masks. They are worried about selling the inventory.

Also, shopkeepers have pointed out that customers are not using the Druk Trace QR code while entering the shops. There is also no one monitoring if three-ply masks are sold and used, shopkeepers said.

Relocating students from Phuentsholing to the low-risk areas has also affected residents, as one of the parents has to be with the children.

Restaurant owners said that families want to sit in a group while visiting restaurants. However, many tend to leave the restaurant when told that they have to sit separately to maintain a physical distance.

Some restaurateurs said that there are no customers, as most of the buildings around are used as quarantine facilities.

There is also no adequate space to keep water buckets for hand washing. Shopkeepers pointed out that it is not necessary to keep hand washing buckets.

“Customers get irritated when they are asked to wear masks, use the Druk Trace app, and wash their hands,” the survey report stated.

Further, the business community highlighted that there is no reduction in rents, despite the difficult situation and decline in customers. SC19TF could explore the possibility of an income tax waiver for the business community of Phuentsholing for 2021, they said.


Business community recommends 

The business community said the SC19TF should explore the possibility of lifting internal checkpoints, and Sorchen switching stations to promote business after the booster dose vaccination ends.

Due to the shortage of skilled manpower for restaurants in Phuentsholing, some businessmen also said it would be better if the Ministry of Labour and Human Resources could provide Bhutanese workers.

The businesspersons also said more frequent awareness programmes on Omicron and strict monitoring by police and de-suups on the proper use of facemasks are needed.

The report further said that business people feel protocol violators must be fined.


Way forward 

As per the sensitisation report, the recommendations will be implemented and followed by respective agencies as per SC19TF instructions. The taskforce will notify all the shops and restaurants to update the checklist on a daily basis.

Police will also develop a schedule to monitor the safety compliance in the town. The regional inspection team (RIT) will submit a scheduled plan for monitoring the containment centres.

Similar programs will be organised for truckers and taxi drivers.