As of the third week of June 2021, a little over 2% of India’s population has been tested positive for Covid-19 and the fatality rate has been even smaller. Yet it will be hard to find even one among India’s 1.36 billion who has not lost someone they know. That is how deceptive statistics can be. So why are we having this nuanced conversation about the pandemic and its heart-breaking outcomes that most of us are already aware of? The answer by now should be obvious, but I will spell it out anyway.
By all reliable accounts, the third wave of the pandemic is just around the corner and unlike during the second wave, we cannot afford to let our guard down.
The first two waves of the pandemic we experienced from March 2020 and now have taught us a lot. Before we draw on these vital lessons as we move ahead, we should perhaps also acknowledge the fact that today we are much better equipped both in terms of healthcare infrastructure including critical oxygen supplies and the vaccines to pre-emptively counter a more aggressive spread of the virus. But it will be foolish to believe that we are out of the woods for good.
In my view, the number one lesson would be not to expect the public health infrastructure to be our only first line of defence to deal with the third wave of the pandemic. Expecting governments, both at the centre and the states to assume full responsibility is both unfair and unreasonable. India’s unique demography is vastly different from most countries around the world. What this means is that, there is no ready-to-use template available from anywhere else in the world, which we can apply here. On the contrary, the reverse can become true, if we manage to wade off the third wave with success. That brings us to the second lesson that we learned from the two waves that can be applied confidently to fight the third wave.
The most effective weapon to push back the spread of the virus is to deal with in smaller groupings or take a community-level approach. Counter measures tend to be far more effective if we keep the containment zone to the bare minimum possible. Apart from not-for-profit organisations, India’s corporate sector has played a vital role so far. From vaccination drives to providing essential supplies like ration, personal protection kits and building Covid care centres and even creating new livelihood opportunities, the support system provided by India’s corporate sector has worked reasonably well during the first two waves. We must continue to expand these efforts as a key supplement to what the government is doing with tax payers' money.
Corporates, particularly the larger ones with factories and offices spread across the country already have a well-oiled communication network that plays an important role in creating awareness and providing vital information on the progress we are making to curtail the spread of the virus. India’s large and small businesses, both in the manufacturing and services sectors have shown great resilience in dealing with the pandemic by moving a large part of the operations to safer zones. Factories across the country wasted little time in rejigging workflow to ensure that risks faced by employees were minimised. A large part of India’s massive workforce had swiftly moved to the work from home (WFH) model during the pandemic. The drop in Covid cases across most parts of India are now giving us fresh hope to return to normalcy through the yet-to-be-tested hybrid work model, albeit with great caution and care.
India has a long and proud tradition of corporates providing vital community services, much before the advent of more contemporary ideas such as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) etc. The contributions of India Inc. during the first two waves’ stands testimony to this. When faced with crisis, the lines that divide businesses and communities at large have had a tendency to blur in India.
This sense of collective responsibility is going to be one of our strongest traits that will help us face the third wave of the pandemic effectively. After all, the mental well-being of our workforce and community continue to be our responsibility and we must move ahead with compassion and utmost caution.