On June 5, Phuentsholing completed 50 days of the third lockdown.

While the fight and resilience against Covid-19 are still on, positive cases are still emerging from the community to the utter shock of both Phuentsholing residents and authorities.

Phuentsholing had recorded 254 positive cases, excluding 86 imported cases, by the morning of June 4 since the lockdown started on April 17. Of the 254 positive cases, 62 were cases from the community and 194 were contacts of the positive cases.

Three people from Pemaling, who tested positive on antigen on June 3 also tested positive on RT-PCR. Including them, Phuentsholing, by evening, saw 14 new cases. The youngest patient is a month-old child.

While the fight against the virus continues, many from approximately 33,000 people in Phuentsholing could be facing other problems at home, especially, financial burden.  

Unlike the civil servants, corporate employees and some private employees of reputed companies, many who depend on meagre monthly salary or daily wage in small enterprises, including those operating these enterprises or businesses could be going through hard time due to mounting rental pressures and daily sustenance with the bank balance exhausting by the day. 

A single mother, Samphel Zangmo (name changed), who worked in a drayang before the pandemic and runs a restaurant now, is worried. She has not paid rent for both her house and restaurant for two months now.

“I look after my entire family,” she said. “And right now I have no income.”

She said the building managers confirmed there is no rent waiver. 

“I hope they will allow me to pay after the lockdown is lifted and my business resumes.”

Samphel Zangmo said there must be many like her, who are affected due to the prolonged lockdown.

Another restaurant owner said restaurant business was already hit due to the pandemic and the previous lockdowns. 

“But this time it is more difficult.”

She said the restaurant rent is high and it has been pending since October last year. 

“If this lockdown continues, it will be difficult to sustain.”

However, her property owner had not pressurised her for the rent, she said.

A small printing shop owner said everything was fine at first. 

“But now, we are still under lockdown even after 50 days.”

He said his bank balance exhausted each day and there is only expenditure without a penny in earnings. 

“Even if I could buy groceries, rent and other utility bills and loan are troubling.”

He said matters would be worse for single parents and those without employment. 

“Government is only focusing on the lockdown. We have to pay the bills.  If they are so concerned, why don’t they ask building owners to waive off the rent.”

He said it was demotivating to see positive cases still emerging despite the prolonged lock-down. 

“Even if the government is waiting for vaccine, something worse will happen to people like me before the vaccine arrives.”

He said that although it wasn’t the right time to complain, poor and middle-class citizens will face the ultimate brunt.

A few house owners are also coming forward to waive off rents, but the numbers are not encouraging, as it was during the first lockdown when many property owners came forward to waive rents or give discounts.

It is not only financial stresses people are into. Some are facing difficulties coping with their lives inside the four walls. Occupants  in  the red buildings are among them.

A woman in one of the red buildings from Core 4 in the Mega Zone 2, (the most affected core and zone), Sonam Zam, said her family has become desperate.

She said it is the third time a family in the building they live tested Covid-19 positive just five days ago. 

“Every time someone is tested positive, our family have to repeat the seven days to 21 days’ red building quarantine routine.”

“We have tested negative for the fifth time,” she said. “But we are still inside our homes with windows closed.”

Sonam Zam posted her frustrations on a Facebook group called the Residents of Phuentsholing Group (RoPG), in which the Southern Covid-19 Task Force also posts their announcements and notifications.

She wanted to get into a quarantine facility and go to Thimphu. 

“Now, we are just two families in two flats, who have not tested positive yet,” she said.

Sonam said that she is yet to understand why they have to stay in 21 days in red building after the Covid-19 positive persons, their families and close contacts are taken to isolation.

She said she often took her mother to evening walks due to her health problems but that has been impossible now.

As of June 4, official records showed there were seven “red clusters” out of which six were in Mega Zone 2, and one from in Mega Zone 1. Only two clusters were deactivated from “red” status from Mega Zone 2.

In terms of the number of buildings, there were 32 buildings out of which eight were located in Mega Zone 1 and the remaining in Mega Zone 2 on June 4.

However, four red buildings from Mega Zone 1 were deactivated and similarly, 11 such buildings from Mega Zone 2 were also deactivated from the red status.

As per the task force, almost 48 percent of the red buildings were deactivated and more deactivations are expected in the coming days if no positive cases are detected during the scheduled testing.

Another resident, Nar Bahadur, said the lockdown has affected many financially. 

“In my case, I am stressed. I may even get diabetes and other related noncommunicable diseases if it continues like this.”

He said he wishes they are allowed to go jogging or for some other sports to stay fit.

A resident at the Toorsa temporary settlement, Singye Wangdi, said if the lockdown continues further, many could suffer.

“Can a lockdown go this long?” he questioned. “People will go mad.”

Singye said recently he even found the price of grocery items inflated. The price of SK Gold rice bag was inflated from Nu 700 in the beginning of the lockdown to Nu 830 later. He complained to the trade office. 

“Five litres of oil costs Nu 625, which means Nu 125 per litre,” he said. “Not many will be able to afford.”

The third lockdown in Phuentsholing started on the evening of April 16 after a 10-year-old boy in one of the schools under thromde tested positive. On May 5, a controlled reopening started. 

People were allowed to walk within their respective zones until 7pm.

Eventually, after several mass testing, the second relaxation started on May 22 after 35 days of lockdown. This time, several zones were turned into three mega zones and movement within the mega zones were allowed.

However, starting June 3, the southern task force has retracted this relaxation for Mega Zone 2, as more cases were emerging from the community. 

While the cases are emerging from the community, many are also of the view that a strict lockdown would help.

A resident, Melam, said complete lockdown needs to be imposed for a minimum of 15 days. 

“In that time, all the frontline workers and shopkeepers should reside either in self-containment mode or shop to stop the virus from spreading.”

By Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

Edited by Tashi Dema