Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

The early hours of the first day of easing lockdown in Phuentsholing were calm yesterday. There weren’t many people in the town.

But by midday, the crowd had ballooned.

A shopkeeper, taken by surprise of the crowd, said he remembered the days before the pandemic.

“Even DeSuups were finding it difficult to manage.”

He said that if people crowd like this, the pandemic and lockdowns would remain forever.

“Everyone should play their own role to prevent the virus. Otherwise, another lockdown is not very far.”

Following the government’s announcement on easing the lockdown, Phuentsholing, which was a “red zone” before started lifting the lockdown phase-wise. The first phase started from 6am yesterday and will conclude on January 12.

In the first phase, the zoning system had been discontinued. Movement of people within the thromde areas on foot has been allowed until 6pm. All shops, restaurants and automobile workshops are also allowed to open from 8am to 5pm.

Restaurants and bars are allowed to operate at 50 percent of their capacity and takeaway orders are encouraged.

Movement of utility, emergency and authorised vehicles are also allowed. Cremation services with not more than 20 people are allowed.

Phuentsholing has been through a rough phase since the first lockdown and being declared as the red zone last year. Although the bordering town is a green zone this time, the town has the highest risk.

The residents are aware of this.

Waiting for his first sale of the day in his small shop, Kinzang Wangdi said he doesn’t have big hopes this year.

“There may be a lockdown here anytime.”

He is convinced the Covid-19 spread can be controlled by following the basic rules of washing hands, wearing masks, maintaining distances and refraining from gatherings.

“At least 80 percent depends on these simple rules. This is how Phuentsholing has been safe this time,” he said.

Business-wise, Phuentsholing has not been the same. Although it remains the primary trading hub, the population has decreased and local business is just among the local people.

A businessman, Namgay, said the population has decreased in the town with hundreds of students shifted to other dzongkhags.

“Many have also shifted their families to places like Paro and Thimphu.”

Considering the first lockdown last year, Namgay said that the lockdown this time was better managed. Along with the Southern Covid-19 task force, he said having Covid-19 Incident Management team was better.

“The only thing we need to do now is to monitor the illegal entries of people from the border,” he said.

“The MDP and the Allay LCS must also be handled cautiously.”

Namgay also said that allowing vehicles would be more proper in balancing the crowd in the town.

“Since the inter-district movements are still not allowed, vehicles within the town could be allowed,” he said.

He said shops and businesses could also close by 8pm.

With vehicle movements restricted, many said allowing automobile workshops to operate was useless.

Meanwhile, offices, schools and other institutions are still closed. All forms of games and sports are also not allowed to open.

All entertainment centres such as drayangs, discotheques, karaokes, snookers and video game parlours are also asked to remain shut. Visiting lhakhangs, picnics and hiking are also not allowed in the first phase.

Stranded people will have to complete seven days’ mandatory facility quarantine and will be sent if they test negative on RT-PCR.