Don’t Fret, Things Get Better - COVID-19

It’s been a little over a month since the government-imposed, nationwide lockdown was lifted. But life, as we know it, hasn’t gone back to the good ole days. There are cars on the roads and plenty of people on the streets. Some wear masks; others throw caution to the wind and ditch masking completely. There is the hustle and bustle, but along with that a salient sense of fear exists that is sometimes over-bearing. With the number of cases on a steep incline, India has now reached the third position worldwide, in terms of confirmed COVID-19 cases. Slightly shy of 700,000 (at the time of writing this), it looks like community transmission is just getting heated up. Having a population the size of ours, it is safe to say that in a few months we might be the country with the largest number of confirmed cases. Since February, India has suffered close to 20,000 deaths due to the virus. Our mortality rate is better than most countries, but that certainly doesn’t take away from the danger of the virus. 

Amidst all this fear and uncertainty, our economy has tanked. Business is at an all-time low, and entrepreneurs are feeling the crunch. Salaries, rents, those inflated electricity bills… costs are only spiralling when there is absolutely negligible income. This has seen thousands, nay, millions of lay-offs across the country. Everyone I speak to complains about the horrible state of affairs. Those who were quick to change their gears and cut costs are better off than the ones who assumed it would go back to being business-as-usual once the lockdown was lifted. Some have shut shop, while others have reduced their office staff or slashed their wages. 

Hotels across the city have been hit hard. Many laying off hundreds of employees and some even doling out minuscule salaries to their existing employees. Fashion and retail too have dried up. The shops are open, they have all the safety and precautions in place, but where are the clients? Holed up in their homes, fearing the dreaded virus, very few are gutsy enough to venture out, and the last thing on their minds right now, is indulging in retail therapy. The only therapy being practised at the moment is immunity building. The pharmacies and private hospitals are raking it in. An entire industry has arisen out of thin air that manufactures masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, and other PPE paraphernalia. Designer masks are selling for as much as Rs 10,000 apiece, with many of our local designers producing them. Oximeters, Vitamin C, D and B capsule strips are in everyone’s handbags and briefcases. 

These are the strange days we live in. No one would be blamed for doomsday predictions right now. Is this the end for start-ups and medium-sized companies, is it the beginning of the end for life as we knew it? The pessimist in me is up in arms and tightening my belt, in anticipation for leaner days ahead, but the realist in me isn’t all that bothered. If one were to predict how things turn out, we have to only look at the Spanish Influenza of the early 20thcentury as an event for comparison. 

According to a story written for Bloomberg by Max Reyes, “Coronavirus containment measures that force economies to slow down or halt may ultimately be better for economic growth than laxer efforts.” In the article, the author goes on to explain how economic slowdown and non-pharmaceutical interventions proved to be better for the economy in the long run than doing nothing at all. What does this mean? In simple terms, keeping our shutters down, not congregating in larger crowds and maintaining social distancing and hygiene is better for your bank balance than diving headfirst into life like nothing had happened. Yes, there will be growing numbers of cases, yes your business will get affected, and you will have to be tight-fisted for a few months, but soon it all blows away. 

While the world did very little to battle influenza back in 1918, the society we live in today is considerably different. The advent of social media and the internet have made communicating news and information must faster. There’s no place on the planet today where the average human doesn’t know that wearing a mask is a form of protection; staying isolated during sickness is a necessity; observing quarantine is a lifesaver. And that, ladies and gents, is going to be the simple formula that gets us out of this mess. Reverting to the good ole days, too early, can only lead to further outbreaks or second, third and fourth waves. 

What does this mean for businesses? It’s going to be a difficult few months. Things aren’t going to be easy, and yes cuts will have to be made, keeping in mind long term survival. Businesses will evolve, hotels will cater to quarantines; the designer will stitch up beautiful masks. Many will fall, the most agile will survive, regardless of how big or small a company is. Every penny not spent is a penny earned. Breaking even is the key. Most industry insiders say that while June and July will have been zero earning months, things will start looking better from August. The stock markets are already recovering, along with that so is the sentiment among the common Indians. We now understand what’s happening around us better, the fear will dissipate, even if the numbers grow. And sometime, in the not too distant future, we will come out at the other end, having survived a global pandemic the likes of which our generation has never seen, and God-willing will never see again.       – Vishwaveer Singh