November , 2020
Covid-19, India and the new normal
11:22 am

Debashis Dhar

The world is facing one of humanity’s biggest crises since the second World War. Almost every country has been affected by the devastating coronavirus disease (Covid-19). It presents a few unusual challenges and that is what this article is about.

Many of us were miles away from home, living in different cities for our livelihood, when Covid-19 first started disrupting our daily lives. While in our hometowns too, we were reading about the Covid-19 virus spreading across the globe – often with a strong sense of scepticism - for the way in which the media was reporting the disease. We saw them as sensationalist and overblown. It’s ironic, then, that we are now all leaning so heavily on the same news mediums to give us more information about the pandemic.

Despite effectively watching the virus approach our own state, we all still seemed to be blindsided by the effect it had on other regions. Many of us started working from home and various offices shifted to the work from home mode. We had easy enough jobs to perform from home, and for a few days, we were spending our time in coffee shops that were getting increasingly emptier. Then the coffee shops closed, and then the bars, and a few days later the lockdown was announced.

Undoubtedly, this virus has put the world economy at a major risk and most of the estimates show that the world is already in an economic crisis. South and Southeast Asian countries are no exception. They are heavily affected - health or otherwise. It is primarily a health crisis which has given birth to an economic crisis.

India’s prowess in pharmaceuticals and health science are being put to best use at this time of crisis . Regional cooperation has been emphasised for effectively handling the common challenge. 

Leaders in the states and in the centre have agreed to step up cooperation in the region against Covid-19 by sharing information and best practices in a timely manner, including exchanging available epidemiological information, technical guidelines and solutions for epidemic prevention and control, diagnosis, treatment and surveillance. This is being done with a view to enhance capacity in emergency preparedness and response and to mitigate supply chain disruptions of urgent medical goods.

There are rich lessons to learn from the Covid-affected states. For example, we could manage to control the devastation with the help of rapid tests and targeted solutions. The major takeaway is the application of digital technology such as Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning (AI-ML) in containing the Covid-19 transmission and sharing data and information on Covid-19 on a real time basis.

There are several channels through which the Covid-19 outbreak may affect the Indian economy (or any economic for that matter) - of which the disruption of supply chains is the major one. Job loss is on the rise along with the slowdown in manufacturing and services sectorsLack of orders may eventually lead to massive trade contraction. A further fall in the Indian rupee is not a remote possibility. Besides, disruption in air travel, fall in travel and tourism, contraction in outdoor entertainment industries, rise in bankruptcy and NPAs are all threatening the Indian economy. While these are short-term effects, rise in death and destabilisation, complicated diseases and continuation of the pandemic cannot be ruled out. As a result, these shocks can spill over to other sectors and economies through trade and production linkages. Decoupling of economies, particularly between China and the rest of the world may arise - forcing China to concentrate more on domestic consumption.           

The Covid-19 crisis has also provided opportunities. Our country may witness better healthcare – both in management and facilities segments. New social and behavioural norms – social distancing, wearing masks, maintaining hygiene are the new normal and we have to adjust with these developments. Surely, vaccines and proper medicines to tackle the Covid-19 will be invented. However, there is no place of complacency.

Opportunities may expand manifolds. Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning (AIML) and block chain technology may come to be used in a big way – providing various opportunities. The new global order will also create new jobs and skills. Global institutions require reforms to deal with the emerging situation.

At the same time, we will have to undertake reforms to strengthen the digital economy and e-commerce sectors - not only to manage the pandemic but also to facilitate trade. Trade barriers should not be allowed in goods and services pertaining to health services. This is a phase of a medical emergency. Crisis calls for togetherness and partnership. We all will have to work together while dealing with the crisis - particularly for ensuring post-crisis recovery and our advantage is our leadership.

Today, we need economic ‘antibodies’ to save our economy from further disasters. Gradual opening of the economies and adjusting to the “new normal” is the need of the hour. Stimulus works well when it is well-coordinated. India’s diplomacy has played a major role in managing the crisis. India must continue to play a larger role in building a cohesive neighbourhood in this 'new normal' situation - at a time when partnerships will be guided by new ethics, challenges and responses.  

-The writer is Group Vice-President – GPT HEALTHCARE (ILS HOSPITALS)

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