After lockdown affected regular incomes, some are switching their businessesWith tourist arrivals suddenly dropping, restaurant business was among the first casualties of the pandemic.
Until last month, Dhan Bahadur Gurung had a hectic schedule. His small restaurant in Kopundole would see a steady flow of customers from as early as nine in the morning. By the time he closed, it used to be around 10pm.
Then suddenly came the lockdown, beginning March 24.
“It meant a complete restriction of movement and gathering of people. And mine is a business where people sit together, eat and drink,” he said.
Gurung was forced to pull the shutters of his restaurant, MoMo Mania, like thousands of other eateries in the Valley.
“I was out of business,” said the 46-year-old from Dhading. His two employees had nothing to do.
After a week at home with no work, he started getting restless.
Gurung then realised that there are certain essential things that people cannot do without, for example vegetables.
“Earlier I used to go to the Balkhu vegetable market to buy what I needed for my restaurant. Now I bring vegetables in bulk,” said Gurung.
For the last two weeks, Gurung visits the Balkhu vegetable market as early as 4:30 in the morning, and by 6, he sets up a shop in front of his restaurant, the shutters still down. Behind the shutters, on his restaurant tables are an array of a variety of vegetables.
“My income is not as much as it used to be from the cafe but something is better than nothing,” said Gurung. “Of course I will go back to my own restaurant business once the lockdown is over, but what I am doing right now will help tide me over during the crisis.”
Gurung is among few who have been locked down in the Valley to have switched their businesses, albeit temporarily.
Amber Mahato, 35, works as a painter and plumber. With the lockdown, there is no work. Mahato’s wife, his two sons and two daughters left for their home village in Rautahat just before the prime minister announced suspension of all long-haul transport.
“I was also planning to go. But I got stuck,” said Mahato who lives in Bafal. “I thought the lockdown would be lifted soon but it did not. There was no work. I was running out of money.”
Mahato pays Rs4,000 for a small room in Bafal. “I was afraid of getting evicted if I failed to pay rent.”
Mahato too decided to sell vegetables.
“I save up to Rs700 a day by selling vegetables for hours in the morning in the locality,” said Mahato.
In Kopundole, customers come to Gurung to buy vegetables while in the Bafal area, Mahato goes door to door.
The government last week extended the lockdown until April 27, calling for a more strict implementation. However, people like Gurung and Mahato take advantage of the morning hours, when people are allowed to buy essentials.
Majority of those who buy vegetables from Gurung are his restaurant customers from the locality.
Rakesh Roy, 43, a creative director at an advertising agency, calls Gurung’s switch to selling vegetables a smart move.
“I am a regular at his restaurant. I used to visit for quick drinks and snacks in the evenings; these days I come here to buy fresh vegetables,” Roy told the Post.
Gurung said he buys vegetables worth around Rs10,000 every morning and sells them with a certain profit margin.
Restaurants in Kathmandu were the first casualty of the Covid-19 pandemic, as they stopped seeing customers long before the lockdown.
With tourist arrivals suddenly dropping, eateries in Kathmandu were already without customers. Long before the government announced lockdown, it cancelled all international flights.
Nepal so far has reported 16 Covid-19 cases, but globally infections and death toll are rising.
Though the current lockdown is applicable until April 27, there are chances that it could be extended further. Neighbouring India has extended the lockdown until May 3 and according to officials, Nepal may not lift the lockdown until India lifts it, given the chances of spread of the virus through the open border.
“I have to pay Rs18,000 a month as rent for this room which I have converted into an eatery which has been closed for the last three weeks,” said Gurung who has been operating the restaurant for the last nine years. “I don’t know when the lockdown is going to be lifted. This vegetable business is not only helping me make some money, it is also keeping me busy.”
Anthropologists call people switching to new business models as a rational behaviour.
“I guess this crisis will help people become more self-dependent and self-reliant also,” said Dambar Chemjong, head of the central department of anthropology at Tribhuvan University. “Even if the state does nothing for its citizens, people find a way out. Humans have a tendency to find solutions to their problems by themselves.”
Frequently asked questions about the coronavirus outbreak
UPDATED as of May 26, 2020
What is Covid-19?
Covid-19, short for coronavirus disease, is an illness caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, short for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. Common symptoms of the disease include fever, dry cough, fatigue, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In severe cases, the infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.
How contagious is Covid-19?
Covid-19 can spread easily from person to person, especially in enclosed spaces. The virus can travel through the air in respiratory droplets produced when a sick person breathes, talks, coughs or sneezes. As the virus can also survive on plastic and steel surfaces for up to 72 hours and on cardboard for up to 24 hours, any contact with such surfaces can also spread the virus. Symptoms take between two to 14 days to appear, during which time the carrier is believed to be contagious.
Where did the virus come from?
The virus was first identified in Wuhan, China in late December. The coronavirus is a large family of viruses that is responsible for everything from the common cold to Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). After an initial outbreak in Wuhan that spread across Hubei province, eventually infecting over 80,000 and killing more than 3,000, new infection rates in mainland China have dropped. However, the disease has since spread across the world at an alarming rate.
What is the current status of Covid-19?
The World Health Organisation has called the ongoing outbreak a “pandemic” and urged countries across the world to take precautionary measures. Covid-19 had spread to 210 countries and infected more than 5,589,712 people with 347,903 deaths. In South Asia, India has reported the highest number of infections at 144,950 with 4,172 deaths. While Pakistan has reported 57,705 confirmed cases with 1,197 deaths. Nepal has so far reported 772 cases with four deaths.
How dangerous is the disease?
The mortality rate for Covid-19 is estimated to be 3.6 percent, but new studies have put the rate slightly higher at 5.7 percent. Although Covid-19 is not too dangerous to young healthy people, older individuals and those with immune-compromised systems are at greater risk of death. People with chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes and lung disease, or those who’ve recently undergone serious medical procedures, are also at risk.
How do I keep myself safe?
The WHO advises that the most important thing you can do is wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizers with at least 60 percent alcohol content. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unclean hands. Clean and disinfect frequently used surfaces like your computers and phones. Avoid large crowds of people. Seek medical attention if symptoms persist for longer than a few days.
Is it time to panic?
No. The government has imposed a lockdown to limit the spread of the virus. There is no need to begin stockpiling food, cooking gas or hand sanitizers. However, it is always prudent to take sensible precautions like the ones identified above.