MB Subba

Despite the government’s advice to avoid crowds to minimise the risks of contracting COVID-19, it has been business as usual for entertainment centres.

The only change is that the number of customers turning up has dropped. But some people working in the entertainment sector say that the drop in customers has not been drastic.

The government has not asked entertainment enterprises to close.

Almost every sector has been hit by COVID-19 except some enterprises, including medical shops and groceries, have done a brisk business.

The entertainment enterprises, including drayangs, discotheques and nightclubs, will remain one of the hardest hit if the situation remains the same. Operators say that they pay high rents.

The entertainment sector also employs hundreds. Owners of entertainment centres are concerned about whether they would be able to pay the employees if the situation continues.

Some of the entertainment enterprises are trying to ensure safety by cleaning them every day. Cleanliness has been identified as one of the most effective ways of protecting people from the COVID-19.

The operator of Mojo Park, Kinley Wangchuk, said that there has been a drop in customers since the detection of the first case in Bhutan. “The business has been affected,” he said.

He said that everything needed to be touched by customers and staff members would be cleaned to ensure safety.

Foreign minister Dr Tandi Dorji said that one of the reasons why the government did not ask private enterprises to close was that people should feel the sense of normalcy. He also said that the private enterprises would ask for compensation if they were asked to close.

Speaking to journalists in Thimphu yesterday, Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said that public gatherings should be discouraged as far as possible in all the dzongkhags. He said that people should avoid crowds.

“We have not detected more than one case as of now. People need to make their living. We will enforce a strict ban on gatherings and conferences if the situation is in the red zone” he said.

He said that the country has not reached a situation where gathering should be totally banned.

Kuensel found that employees in the entertainment centres were not wearing protective masks although they work in close contact with customers.

One of the employees of a popular drayang in Thimphu, who did not want to be identified, said that she was not worried about the disease as the government had said that there were no new cases.

“There is a slight decrease in customers. But we use our personal contacts to invite customers,” she said.

Workers in the entertainment sector said that they had started to feel the pinch due to the downturn in business. If the entertainment enterprises are to be closed, livelihoods of many workers in the sector are expected to be affected.

“We receive 50 percent of the ‘request money’ from our employer. If there are no customers, then we will be affected,” said an employee of a drayang.

An employee of a nightclub in Thimphu said that people were visiting the night club as usual. She said that people were advised not to panic and that accordingly the nightclub was operating.

However, some observers are concerned about the government’s efforts to keep the entertainment centres open.

An observer said that the government should close down all entertainment centres. He said that if the coronavirus situation was not contained over the next several months, business enterprises would suffer anyway.

It is expected that the closure of entertainment enterprises would lead to missed payments to financial institutions. In such a situation, he said, it will be the government’s duty to talk to Royal Monetary Authority to convince the banks to either let go of interest payments for such time till the economy picks up or come up with an incentivised scheme to help the enterprises.