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Clinging oh hopeโ€™s last strands

Residents of Phuentsholing and Samtse are hopeful that the second jab would mean the end to their prolonged suffering

By Sonam Choki

While the lockdown in Samtse has been partially lifted following no fresh cases for several days, the residents of Phuentsholing are clinging to their last strands of hope of getting vaccinated at the earliest and finally getting freed from the pandemicโ€™s grip.

This, the second dose, the residents hope will be the final answer to their months of suffering under the lockdown which has now extended to more than 90-days, a world record feat by all margins.

In a bid to calm the rising cases in Phuentsholing and Samtse the government initiated a two-week lockdown as a final measure to contain the spread before the vaccine rollout on 20th. However, in case of Phuentsholing, the number of fresh cases has continued to appear everyday dimming their little hopes of reopening sooner.

As residents stay indoors hoping for better days, fresh cases continue to pop-up from the community dousing the small flames of hope they carry.

Some residents, frustrated and helpless, had shared numerous messages of hatred and discomfort posed by the long lockdown. Many say they have now had enough of the lockdown and that people are now mulling over moving to other Dzongkhags to continue with their life.

โ€œLife has completely become unmanageable for me and my family as we have been rendered without a steady source of income for the past one and a half years. My children are also suffering due to the long closures. I am now planning to relocate to Thimphu or other districts where I and my wife can resume our small family business,โ€ said Jith Bahadur Rai, a resident.

Like Jit Bahadur, according to unconfirmed reports, many residents are fleeing Phuentsholing in the droves including many who are now planning to move away from the town.

A family of five who recently came to Thimphu from Phuentsholing said they were forced to move as theit two children were staying with relatives here in the capital.

โ€œI had to move to Thimphu as my children were here in Thimphu while I and my husband lived in Phuentsholing. I think the pandemic will not go any time soon so it was best we left Phuentsholing so that we could be with our children and ensure they didnโ€™t miss school for long,โ€ said Karma Dechen, 54, a businesswoman who was then based in Phuentsholing.

One of the biggest fears among residents are that their children has now been away from school for a long time. While the government and the education ministry has proposed relocating all the students, parents say they are faced with lot of inconveniences and some families are moving to other Dzongkhags because of the reason.

While civil servants and big corporate employees have been faring slightly better, private employees, businessmen and daily wage earners including taxi and truck drivers said they have been hit the hardest and that a majority of them are moving away from the town.

Rumours are also rife that the government is planning to relocate all taxi drivers of Phuentsholing to Thimphu, Paro and some select districts. If this was to happen, taxi drivers in Paro and Thimphu, who are already faced with stiff competition and diminishing returns, say they will be doomed.

โ€œThere are already a huge number of taxis in the capital partially due to the huge number of those working in the tourism and hospitality taking up taxi business. There are also civil servants who drive taxis to earn extra. Our business will be ruined,โ€ said Sangay Tempa, a taxi driver based in Paro.

According to Sangay, he was working in one of the hotels in Paro prior to the pandemic. However, he started driving a taxi about four months ago to make ends meet after his hotel went out of business.

โ€œThe amount we earn today is just sufficient to make ends meet. However, if there was more competition things would surely turn from bad to worse for us. I wish atleast those who earn enough as civil servants to spare the job for us,โ€ Sangay said, adding that some of his taxi driver friends have already left for their villages.

Meanwhile, as the ultimate day for the second round of vaccination arrives, residents of Samtse and Phuentsholing are hoping against hope that they will soon be able to come out of this predicament.

โ€œWe wish the government can prioritize vaccination for people living in vulnerable areas first so that things normalize for them. We are just clinging to this last ray of hope, of getting vaccinated and getting back to normal once and for all,โ€ a resident said.

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