Reopening doesn’t mean victory over Covid-19: Uday Shankar, FICCI – News 24-7 Live News 24-7 Live
Reopening doesn’t mean victory over Covid-19: Uday Shankar, FICCI

Reopening doesn’t mean victory over Covid-19: Uday Shankar, FICCI

In the first wave the fear was high but the number of cases were low, however this time the fear is high and the number of cases is also very high. So, what happens next? Are we in for a grind down with a dark patch or will the recovery be like what we saw in October and November of 2020?
You have put it very well, that what we saw last time was fear. It was the fear of the unknown, but the impact on lives and mortality was less. This time the fear is high – and actually in the beginning perhaps the fear was not so much – but suddenly the fear spiked and so did the cases of infection and mortality. The cases are still very high, but they have dropped down from where they were to less than half and we are going to start considering reopening of the economy.

The problem is whether we will able to do it in a calibrated scientific and disciplined manner. I am not just talking about this from the point of view of the government, but even from the consumers and all of us citizens. Of course, the virus mutated and it was a very virulent strain, but it was also because as the reopening started last year, people started behaving or believing that we had vanquished the virus and life was coming back to normal. I hope everybody, from the government to ordinary citizens, to people in villages and everyone else takes this message: reopening does not mean victory over the virus.

Victory over the virus will happen only when we have vaccinated the large part of our population and that is why there will be an element of fear this time. In terms of the rebound of the economy, I believe in India and I believe in the entrepreneurial genes of this country. I think there would be a desire and there would be a rebound, but the challenges before the people to rebuild their lives, their businesses, their normal economic activity is much greater this time than it was the last time. Last time there was national lockdown and there was a pent-up demand. When it opened up, people just went about it sorting their lives out with a vengeance.

This time I think both the power to spend and the desire to spend has taken a huge hit. The biggest problem with the second wave is, besides the enormous loss of life, that people believe that there might be a third wave and a fourth wave. Until there is factual and scientific reassurance that I have got the vaccine – a large part of people that I interact with have all got vaccines – that fear will be there and the fear is likely to mute the economic revival in a very big way. Besides, the economy itself has taken a double shock.

Do you think the biggest priority of the government needs to be making sure that everybody is vaccinated? The number we are seeing are not very encouraging.
I think it is not just priority number one, it should be priority number 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 and everything else comes after that because unless people are vaccinated, any attempt to revive the economy, bring back normalcy, and get people to go about their lives runs the risk of being interrupted and stopped in its tracks. That is what we saw with the second wave and there could be a third wave, God forbid. That is why it is really important.

You are right, the numbers that we are seeing are not very encouraging, but we can turn the corner on that. It is a supply issue, it is a manufacturing issue, and it is a delivery issue. These are problems that the government of India deals with on a regular basis and these are problems that some of us deal with it at different levels on a regular basis. We need to make sure that the vaccine capacity is ramped up to the maximum extent possible and we need to do a bunch of things — we need to sign firm contracts, we need to first make sure that there is a smooth channel of vaccine procurement and there are not too many frictions in that. We need to sign contracts with vaccine manufacturers and incentivise them.

Wherever we want to secure our supply lines, we sign firm contracts, we put in delivery clauses and we give them advance and not only that we put our own monitors, supervisors, experts to just make sure that there are no unprecedented or unexpected hurdles that we run into. Then we need to do the distribution of it. The vaccine situation right now is a little tight, but every month it is set to get better. From the estimates that we have seen, next month in June it should be somewhere around 10-11 crores or 100-110 million. In July it should go up further, but from August the vaccine supply situation should get much better. It should be more than 20-22 crores a month.

Now if we really get ready, we need to do two things. We need to just make sure that the vaccines that we are likely to get, not a single dose shortfall happens and that we can do by just making sure that we have firm contracts, we have firm delivery schedules, etc. Then we need to get every single vaccine that this country can use its resources to procure from outside by again signing contracts, paying money and making sure that if there are any legal or other hurdles in their way, they should be brought in. Then simultaneously, we should be able to deliver.

We should be getting ready already in the month of May for a very accelerated, very ramped up, and dramatically scaled up vaccine administration regime from July or August. And it is possible, let us not forget that we do these things. We have done polio vaccination and other vaccination programs, and we have delivered great results in very crunched timeframe. But the best model to our mind is a model like what the Election Commission does. Have we ever wondered that how is it that in a country as diverse as India election is over seven or eight days. The Election Commission makes sure that in every remote nook and corner there is an election machinery that goes there with the voting machines, etc. and people are able to cast their votes.

I think it is really possible and the government has demonstrated its capacity to do that. If we do that, we at FICCI genuinely believe that we have clear line of sight on availability of vaccine and we have clear line of sight on vaccinating a large mass of our population so that we can avoid the third wave ideally, or even if there is a mutation, its virulence can be blunted very heavily.

The sector which you represent and the media sector have seen a lot of changes, whether it is OTT or the adaptation towards digital, whether it is cutting the cord and using smartphone as the new handheld device to consumer content. Do you see this pandemic bringing about a permanent change in the sector which you represent and in media?
In the broader theme, a bunch of people, the long tail, those who are small, creative entrepreneurs, those who are running small businesses and supporting the media and creative ecosystem they have been hit very badly. There is a need to make an intervention to make sure that they are able to stand on their feet. Then there are sectors like theatrical exhibition that has been devastated and now it has been more than a year and three months or so that theatres have been shut.

There is a downstream effect. The entire film and creative industry have been hit very badly. And all of those need to be supported, but if you look at the other side of it, media and entertainment is a sector that was already being disrupted very heavily by intervention of technology. As you said, it is OTT streaming. But even more than that, the way content was produced, the way content was distributed, the way content was edited, the way content value addition was being created, all of that was already getting disrupted very heavily.

I think in that sense there is the process of disruption and rebirth of a new media ecosystem where technologically enabled creative power houses will grow very dramatically and they will be able to offer much higher quality of content, higher experience of content consumption to their consumers. Those changes are going to get really strong. My fear is that the Indian creative ecosystem is still a lot of small and medium enterprises, and some very small enterprises. We have to make sure that they do not go under because if somebody has not been able to produce a show or if somebody invested in making a small film and that film has been interrupted, their ability to come back and seamlessly pick up the threads is under pressure. We need to look at this.

This country, as far as the media and entertainment ecosystem is concerned, does not see this as core to our economic process. But it is a sector that creates tremendous economic value. It provides jobs and employments to millions and millions of people and we have an opportunity to become a global leader in media and entertainment. I think this pandemic could be used as an opportunity to create a framework where we allow tech driven highly creative enterprises to come up and take brand India and business of creativity in India to the whole next level.

News source- Economic Times

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