After two lockdowns and tight restrictions for almost 6 months to control the spread of COVID-19, the government has finally lifted restrictions in Nepal. As a country with a majority of businesses that are small and medium-sized, the locals have obviously had it as bad as it can get.
With almost no businesses operating aside from the food industry for the past few months, here is what local businesses have to say about the pandemic.
“We have no hopes of our businesses reviving anytime soon. For now, we are just hoping we can make enough to get by.”, says Sarita Magar, a businesswoman who owns a small eatery in Sanepa. “We moved from our house in Kalanki to a rented flat in Sanepa so that we could focus better on our business but due to the lockdown, we had no other choice than to remain closed. There is no income, but we still have to pay our rents. We didn’t ask the tenants at our house in Kalanki to pay, but our landlords were not considerate enough to do so and we’ve had to pay our rents throughout the lockdown period.”
Retail stores are seen closed during the lockdown.(September 7, 5:00 PM, Jawlakhel)
Despite being one of the only industries that have been operating in this trying time, restaurant owner Mona reveals that it takes a lot to sustain the business during the lockdown. “We had to partner up with online deliveries, hire people, and cautiously follow all safety protocols. It has been a lengthy and costly process to operate during the lockdown. Not to forget the hesitation that customers have developed on ordering food from outside. Their hesitation not only comes from safety issues but also from reduced purchasing power.”
Many restaurants and eateries are only providing takeaways and home deliveries during the pandemic in attempts of reducing the risk of spreading the virus. (September 9, 3:29 PM, Jhamsikhel)
Vishnu Kumari, a local vegetable vendor expressed, “We fear to die of hunger more than of coronavirus. Why is it that we Nepalese have to fear starvation more than the virus itself? I depend on daily sales to support me and my family of four. I am in no position to stay at home because of the virus. Of course, I am scared of getting infected, but can I afford to stay home? Definitely not.”
An image of the bustling market in Lalitpur during the early hours of the morning. The time allocated for market openings were set as early as 4:00 AM - 7:00 AM during the lockdown. (September 6, 5:45 AM, Lagankhel Vegetable Market)
Nirjal Karki, a local home-goods trader tells us how he had no other option but to let all of his staff go. “I used to employ a few youngsters who were studying and working in Kathmandu just to be able to afford the bare minimum, but the lockdown hit our business bad and I was no longer able to pay the rent or the salaries. It is indeed cruel to unemploy people who solely depend on your business, but I had no other option, I was barely making enough to feed my own.”
As we look back at it, the official lockdown started in March 2020 but the virus has been around since November 2019. Talking to a trader in handicraft products, this is what he had to say about this, “With almost all my clients being foreigners, especially Chinese, my business has been headed to a downfall since the year ending of 2019. So, the impact of the virus started for us long before the lockdown was imposed in Nepal.” He added, “Whenever you mention the coronavirus, we automatically associate it with no income. Especially for us Nepalese people, rather than the fear of health and safety, we associate it with no income and unemployment.”
Following the relaxation in lockdown starting September 13, a mall in the country is pictured gradually opening up for business. (September 15, 4:00 PM, Labim Mall)
Meanwhile, recalling Nepal’s extensive preparations for Visit Nepal 2020, Rajendra says, “As a country that is so dependent on the tourism industry, we have faced the worst just as we were expecting and preparing for the best tourist season till date.” Rajendra is an aspiring hotelier who rented out an entire house in Patan in full prepayment for a year. With much belief and confidence, he made renovations and changed the place into a boutique guesthouse, only to have a lockdown imposed just a couple months after he started operations. “It is impossible to put my current state into mere words, nothing can describe the fear I face every night. At times, the crippling anxiety brings me crashing down but I can’t stay put and hope everything becomes fine. I’ve started delivering food and groceries by utilizing the resources I already own; it doesn’t pay much but something is definitely better than nothing. After all, I have big loans to pay and a team of staff who depend on me.”
Visit Nepal 2020 was much more than just a campaign to promote Nepal as a tourist destination. The campaign with a budget of Rs 650 million aimed to bring 2 million tourists to Nepal in the year of 2020 as per a Himalayan Times article from 29 April, 2020 . The government, along with the 500,000 people that the tourism sector directly employs and millions of other businesses that rely on tourism had been working for months to make the campaign fruitful. The endeavors have however been slammed down as the entire campaign was called off in March of 2020.
The lockdown ease during July served as a reminder that nothing is certain and the virus is here to stay for a long time. The short ease was soon put to an end as the government announced another lockdown due to rapidly increasing cases.
The main road of Jawlakhel is pictured completely empty during the nationwide lockdown in Nepal. (June 1, 5:50 PM, Jawlakhel)
Locals say that they see no hope of getting back on track anytime soon. The virus has left thousands of businesses in shambles for over 6 months, hence the recovery is going to be an extremely slow process. People are earning bits or are unemployed, resulting in a fast and hard-falling purchasing power among consumers. However, with the lockdown currently lifted, they cannot help but have a glimmer of hope that maybe they will be able to do some business for Dashain. People fear that the attempts at controlling the virus by imposing a lockdown will leave their businesses and the economy sabotaged for many more years to come.
Shrawana Shakya, Kathmandu, Sep 22, 2020