Rajesh Rai  | Phuentsholing

Measures are put in place in Phuentsholing to keep COVID-19 at bay. People’s movement has also decreased and the business in the town has slumped. Hotel industry has been hit the hardest.

At the reception counter yesterday, Pema, a hotelier, had nothing to do.

“I have been here since 7am. It is 4pm now and there has not been a single room booking,” he said, adding that his restaurant business had gone down drastically.

Pema said that normally it was around this time the tourists number would increase.  But after the government banned the entry of tourists on March 6, after the first case of COVID-19 in the country, the business took the hit.

For many, this is just the beginning of the problem. Soon, retaining employees, paying rents and loans will become the major problems with many businesses.

A hotelier (name withheld) said the cancellation of reservations began even before the government’s decision to ban the entry of tourists.

“Everything is now beginning to come to a standstill,” she said. “Today, we had zero occupancy.”

What’s happening then?

The hoteliers are looking beyond weeks, even months. Discussions and information sharing is happening between employers and employees. Paid and unpaid leave is being discussed because retaining employees is the main challenge. Disruptions have begun.

But there is awareness and, so, agreement. Staffs have been very accommodating.

“But if the situation doesn’t improve, it would be difficult,” a hotelier said.

Hoteliers are a group that wants to support the government at this time but they are unable to because of loan repayment and high cost overruns.

A restaurant owner, Sonam Penjor, said that restaurant business was affected more than hotels.

“But this is not the time to count personal loss and gain,” he said. “I am confident we will have found a way before major damage comes on all sectors.”

Garment sales have also been affected. Sujata, a garment seller, said the number of people coming to her shop decreased since the first case of COVID-19 in Bhutan.

Grocery is perhaps the only business that is making the most out of all these fears and worries. People are stocking supplies and that means good business for the grocers.

Noryang Enterprise’s owner, Sonam said that the business is as usual.

Residents in the town, meanwhile, said that Phuentsholing has more risks due to the porous border it shares with the neighbouring town of Jaigaon.

Starting from February 6, the response team recorded a total of 1.19 million (M) people entering the border town until March 10. About 158 people had fever but no symptoms of the virus were reported.

Officials from all relevant agencies are working actively for preventions. Quarantine facilities have also been identified and a flu clinic is already in place. Several individuals in the town have also come forward to help the response team.