Missing in Action, Private Sector–Economic Times

The Covid-19 pandemic calls for all hands on deck. In India, private hands have been missing in action. This must be remedied. India appears to have contained the spread of the virus, but given the experience in other countries, it is best to prepare for the next stage. For now, India continues to be in stage 2, or the phase of local transmission when those exposed to the virus may infect people in close contact. The government and its agencies are geared to isolate the symptomatic and observe those exposed but asymptomatic. It also requires ensuring that the country is ready to deal with the next phase of community transmission, which means a likely increase in the number of cases. To avert this and to deal with it, if prevention fails, everyone needs to pitch in.

Till now, the private sector has focused its energies on being allowed to test people for the virus. Business leaders have called on government to not restrict testing to public labs arguing that increased testing is essential to avoid an epidemic. Yet, India Inc has done little to step up domestic manufacturing of testing kits. Despite the capacity to domestically produce these kits, the country will have to import large quantities. Nor has India Inc stepped up to manufacture masks and hand sanitisers. Chinese liquor companies and French perfumers have diverted their production lines to alcohol-based sanitisers, Rolls-Royce is putting its engineering capacity to produce respirators.

Indian companies are threatening to produce testing kits, promising to work on vaccines and cures, and wringing their hands with vigour. To their credit, many have adopted policies to let their employees work from home, when that is possible; and offered to use their CSR funds to pay for testing at private labs, provided the rules permit both.

The Covid-19 pandemic is a crisis that requires all segments to step up and do their bit, and, clearly, there is plenty to do. It is time for India Inc to act proactively, instead of looking to the government for all solutions. Trade unions and political parties can and must chip in.

This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Economic Times.
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