Opinion

Coronavirus is hurting businesses pretty badly

Sangita Reddy | Updated on March 23, 2020 Published on March 23, 2020

Aggressive stimulus policies would be required to help industry and unorganised sector workers

In the name of Corona, people have died, establishments have closed, communities stay at home and countries have shut down their borders. Never before, in the last 100 years has a pandemic of this magnitude threatened life, sanity, routines and economies, and the worst is not yet over. But let’s fight and conquer this together.

The WHO has declared Covid-19 as a pandemic. Disease experts use the term “pandemic” to describe when an epidemic has become rampant in multiple countries and continents simultaneously. While the word may evoke fear, it describes how widespread an outbreak may be, not its deadliness. In barely 90 days, the world has been invaded. From the implosion in China, to tremors in Singapore and Korea, the Italian tragedy, the European contagion and the American wake-up.

India’s response has been pro-active (started on January 17), comprehensive and effectively led by the government. Aided by some reaction time to study other countries and the fact that we have very few direct flights to China, we may hopefully emerge relatively unscathed.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his address to the nation has suggested ways to deal with the situation through strong resolve and patience as the pandemic is set to impact the social life and economy in a big way. The only way is to stand together as a nation and face Covid-19 challenge in a resolute manner.

A survey conducted among FICCI member companies and associations between March 1519 has shown a significant 53 per cent of Indian businesses witnessing marked impact of the coronavirus pandemic on business operations even at early stages.

Corporate India’s role

Organisations should promote containment by minimising travel, enabling work from home and planning for the developing situations in real time. In the immediate term, companies need to stay updated on the government informed guidelines, provide adequate hygiene tools at work, encourage and monitor good hygiene practices.

For the medium and long term, they need to think ahead of time on what could go wrong, anticipate work force depleted work environments and mitigate accordingly. Additionally, it is important to also have a work plan for infected workers, helpline info, re-joining plan, etc. The worst is not over and companies will be called upon for further help if the crisis accelerates.

FICCI has come out with a ‘Guide for Organisations to follow under COVID-19 Pandemic’. The basic idea is that “addressing the humanitarian challenge should be our priority at all work sites”.

This 'Guide has been compiled by FICCI from best practices adopted by corporates across the globe and are intended to help reduce the impact of Covid-19 outbreak in the country on businesses. Employers and workers may use this planning guidance to help prepare their workplaces for prevention of infection as well as for enhancing their productivity through workplace flexibility and workforce preparedness. The guide can be accessed at ficci.in (http://www.ficci.in/publication.asp?spid=23192).

How to protect

The virus may be novel, but you don’t need to buy anything new or special to brace for it. The most important aspect of preparedness costs nothing at all — calm. Don’t panic. Be aware and vigilant. The basic precautions are the same as what you should be doing every day to stave off other respiratory diseases: wash your hands regularly; cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze; avoid public gatherings and when you’re sick, stay at home; disinfect all surfaces; self-quarantine yourself from work or school; build your immunity through healthy food and exercise and vitamins (vitamin C and Echinacea); restrict house staff (while still paying them); put social pressure to ensure compliances, as well as preventing the hoarding of essential goods like masks and disinfectants.

Next 15 days crucial

The next 15 days are crucial for India, everyone can help flatten the curve to fight Covid-19; here's what the term means. If the SARS-CoV-2 is passed on too quickly and too many people become infected at one time, the resources available to fight it could quickly become overwhelmed.

While flattening the curve may not be able to reduce the number of people who get infected with SARS-CoV-2, it ensures that the number of people dealing with it at any one time is limited. On the other hand, if the disease is allowed to progress at its natural pace, the disease will spike, causing massive issues for health professionals who are already stretched to their limits.

Stimulus policies

This invisible virus has led to a vast and very visible impact on the economy and the stock market. Around ₹40 lakh crore has been wiped out from the Indian stock market. Companies will be declared NPAs and the financial ecosystem looks depleted. The economies are facing the trio of shocks — the demand shock with consumption being seriously affected and a fall in the aggregate demand; the supply shock with materials being scarce in a time of cross-border containment and production disruption; and the financial shock as asset markets tumble and stock markets crash.

The growth may fall below 4 per cent if aggressive stimulus policies are not followed. The task force led by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman will have to look at measures like relaxation in NPA norms, deferral of tax payments and income support to the unorganised sector workers.

As we grapple with the implications for the global and Indian economy and plan for strategic, and coping environments, the certainty of one thing comes to mind — “The world will never be the same again”, and while “This too shall pass”, may the residual memory of it make us ensure that the world is a better place and humanity a better race.

The writer is Joint Managing Director, Apollo Hospitals Group, and President, FICCI

Published on March 23, 2020

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