Coronavirus tracing app graphic

View from India: The cyclical pattern of Covid reemerges

Image credit: University of Oxford

The gloom of the 2020 lockdown had begun to subside as the national lockdown was lifted. Subsequently, the Covid vaccine had kindled a spark of hope among the people. It was reassuring as millions of people have been vaccinated in the country. But destiny willed otherwise

The second wave of the coronavirus pandemic has struck and the pace at which it is spreading is alarming. The infection knows no bounds. Intensive care unit (ICU) and critical care unit (CCU) beds are being filled up with Covid patients. In some places, demand has outstripped supply. Testing centres, labs and diagnostics chains are swelling with patients. The sound of the ambulance sirens is becoming more frequent.

Steel plants with surplus stocks of oxygen supply are being offered for medical use. Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi has announced that industrial cylinders will be purged and used to meet the demand for medical oxygen. For free movement across states, the PM has exempted registration permits for oxygen tankers.

Modi has also addressed the governors of states. Briefing them, he said that the country had become self-reliant with respect to testing kits. Naturally, this has reduced the cost of RTPCR (Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction) tests. Modi has emphasised the significance of increasing tracking, tracing and testing and said that RTPCR testing needs to be increased from 60 per cent to 70 per cent. Many more products pertaining to testing are available on the GeM (Government e-Marketplace) portal.  

As Covid cases spiral, the Defence Research and Development Organisation, (DDRO) is reopening its medical facility near Delhi Airport. Operations will begin with 250 beds, equipped with oxygen, ventilators, basic testing facilities and air-conditioning as per World Health Organisation (WHO) standards. The facility, which began operating in July 2020 to treat Covid patients, closed operations in February 2021 as the number of cases appeared to be dwindling. 

While all this is on, there is another dimension to the pandemic. People are queuing at private hospitals and primary health centres to get vaccinated.

However contradictory it seems, the virus and vaccine are happening at the same time. Although the spread of the virus is outrageous, it is hoped that the vaccine production will be ramped up and become the saving grace.

Briefing journalists, KV Subramanian, chief economic advisor (CEA) to the Government of India (GoI), said that the vaccines have made the country more prepared for the second wave of the pandemic than the first one. Subramanian has acknowledged the role of e-commerce in delivering goods and digital transactions that have become a norm since last year. And it is here to remain. A community of 800 million people received essentials through the Public Distribution System (PDS) and the Jan Dhan-Aadhaar-mobile at the click of a button.

The lockdown patterns of 2020 have reemerged and impacted diverse verticals. Localised partial lockdowns with mobility restrictions in retail-recreation hubs and low-key business activity across states will dampen the overall economic prospects that were expected from this fiscal. From a retail point of view, hybrid sales models will do the rounds as brick and mortar stores have taken a beating this year.

Digital payments and internet penetration are projected to expand to include semi-urban and rural consumers. Amazon Pay, the digital payment channel from e-commerce company Amazon was in the news recently. Amazon Pay’s digital payment interface has empowered over five million neighbourhood stores and small and medium businesses comprising merchants and entrepreneurs. The country’s digital payment space is represented by PhonePe from Walmart, Alibaba-backed Paytm and Google Pay.  

The pandemic has pushed small businesses to upscale accounting and point of sales systems digitally. Digital procedures generate data. This can be used by the business to gauge their profits and loss and stay afloat during Covid 2.0.

E-commerce, which gained significant momentum last year, continues to garner more first-time adopters. This brings job opportunities for youth from semi-urban and rural backgrounds. It is anticipated to boost the two-wheeler segment. This is much required, as the lockdown-like curbs have put a strain on the auto industry. For instance, the Mumbai-Pune belt of Maharashtra is a major contributor to the auto industry. Approximately 10 per cent of the country’s automotive sales come from Maharashtra. Though customers have the option of buying, selecting or selling vehicles online, they would always prefer a first-hand experience of the vehicle before making a purchasing decision. Against this, the logistics of the automotives, sales and delivery have been badly affected.

Covid 2.0 is expected to scale up the usage of robotic devices in shop floors and medical units. It’s not difficult to imagine why. Those who work on the shop floors of manufacturing companies and medical units may or may not be able to travel to work in the present situation. In case some of them have gone to their hometown, returning to work may take a longer time than before. Remote monitoring of operations will become commonplace. These very circumstances may promote DIY or do-it-yourself products in many sectors.

Many IT companies were planning to re-open partially or even fully by mid-2021. Now the plans have been stalled. More than 80 per cent of India's IT employees are under 45 years of age. As of now, the Covid vaccine is yet to be administered for those below 45 years of age or the 30-plus age group.   

The rapid spread of the pandemic has also put a dent in the smartphone segment. Shipment of handsets is a challenge. The demand for new smartphones has dimmed, due to such factors as salary cuts or even loss of job, travel restrictions and a slowdown in manufacturing. The outlook is bleak. Had it not been for the second wave, the domestic smartphone manufacturers and retailers were showing some promise. However, the entry of 5G services and devices packaged at multiple price points is likely to ring in a new tune in the smartphone market. 

There’s a belief that what goes around comes back again. One never thought this would happen with the pandemic. Hopefully, with the combined efforts of the government, medical fraternity and the citizens, the cyclical pattern of Covid will fade away.

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