By Manisha Maan : These are testing times. The contagion of Coronavirus disease (Covid-19), first detected in Wuhan in China last November, has killed 2 lakh people while more than twenty lakhs are battling for their lives across the world. The numbers will spike as the virus has taken foothold in highly populated countries like India. An alarmed World Health Organisation has urged nations to take prompt, resolute actions to counter the epidemic fatal for the global economy as well as people with poor immunity.
Large-scale Covid-19 infections in Europe, Americas, Africa and Asia have forced nations to huddle in war like existence. Countries across continents have shut down factories and shops except for those delivering essential services, and people have been ordered to stay indoors to contain the virus that spreads from contact between humans and has no cure.
Governments have grounded transportation services and closed public places after it emerged that Covid-19 could survive on plastic and metal surfaces hours after infected persons had touched them. The fact that the virus can only be contained through social isolation has raised the spectre of extensive industrial inactivity. Prolonged curfews that compel people to stay at home will breed industrial inactivity, thereby bleeding businesses of revenue, spike costs, generate unemployment, and trigger an economic meltdown.
India and China, the usual bright spots in a dismal global climate, risk losing their shine during the crisis. Although China has opened its factories after months of lock down to revive manufacturing activity, corona virus threats still undermine public health at home. Further, business is unlikely to look up until markets in Europe and the US break free of Covid-19. The situation in India looks better when compared to China, the US and the whole of Europe. Despite this, the realisation of an impending economic slowdown has started to dawn after the government extended the three-week lock down that began from March 23.
Transportation, hospitality and tourism industries have been knocked down by curfew on mass movement and suspension of bus, train and airline services. Production of non-essential products has ceased while factories churning essential products are functioning after the government allowed workers to operate on rotational shifts to prevent crowding.
Service-Sector companies are desperate to keep up their operations and are harnessing technology to allow their employees to operate from home. During the lock down period, internet data operators like Vodafone, Airtel and Reliance Jio are offering double data and service validity extension for value packs to smooth out disruptions in work from home activity. For all their efforts towards letting employees work for home, IT companies insist a substantial number of their employees still need to commute to manage critical work. To ensure their safety, the staff has been split into rotational day and night shifts.
Despite the damage in the US and Europe, India is hopeful a clement weather will substantially limit casualties at home. Indian Industries in general and Indian stock market in particular are pinning their hopes on a short interlude. It is on the strength of these expectations that several companies have announced to pay daily wagers salary for two months irrespective of the availability of work.
Despite high hopes and good intentions, it is not going to be an easy road to recovery. India has severe demographic challenges to overcome in its battle against Covind-19. Its foremost concern is implementation of social distancing and public hygiene despite the high population density of its cities and villages. Prolonged and effective public campaigns, strict enforcement of social distancing and public hygiene standards, and a coordinated disaster management system that aggressively targets, tests and quarantines Corona virus suspects will go a long way in combating the pandemic.
What is most unnerving about the contagion is its ability to infect people in hundreds and strike across board. Hollywood moghuls Harvey Weinstein and Tom Hanks, British heir to Crown Prince Charles, Prince Albert II of Monaco, Britain’s prime minister Boris Johnson, Iran’s Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s wife Sophie Trudeau, Australian Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, several senators in the USA, business tycoons like New York Knicks owner James Dolan, athletes, diplomats, and a smattering of television stars and singers including India-origin artists Indira Varma and Kanika Kapoor are some of its high-profile victims.
The fact that Corona virus breaches traditional defences in an interconnected world is what spooks the public sentiment. Although a large number of its patients recover from the virus, fatality rate is higher for people above 50. In such a scenario, opening up the garrisons before getting a full grip on the contagion exposes industry and political leaders to life threatening risks and compromises the safety of masses. Such an ill-conceived act raises the probability of a rebound in cases. This will generate an environment of unpredictability and insecurity which will not only harm law and order in the country, but also dent the chances of economic recovery. The Chief Ministers of various states have been wise in prescribing caution to the Centre this Monday as it juggles measures towards saving lives and kick-starting the economy engine into a slow splutter.