Perception is Reality, until you change it!

COVID-19 Second wave

COVID-19 Second wave and how does it impact India’s Image?

In the past few weeks, I have received so many messages and calls from concerned friends, clients and colleagues all over the world. They are all watching the non-stop coverage on their media about the COVID-19 second wave, the challenges on our medical infrastructure and the sea of destruction it has left in India. Unfortunately, this time I cannot even say these incidents are isolated and limited to certain small parts of India. It is all around us and it is for real!

Until just a few months ago, it seemed liked we had bucked the 2nd wave and the pandemic was completely behind us. Schools and swimming pools were the last of the restrictions to be lifted in February 2021. India was being lauded by everyone around the world, as the country stepped forward to help countries like Afghanistan, Gaza and even the UN peacekeepers by supplying the ‘Made-in-India’ vaccination. India exported more than 66 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to 95 countries worldwide.  

Now, the tables have turned. We thought that India had weathered the worst of the pandemic storm, however with the virus surging, our systems are beginning to collapse. A sad narrative indeed!

A Picture Speaks a Thousand words

There are harrowing pictures of India that the world is seeing today. Mass cremations, dire oxygen shortages, lines outside hospitals and makeshift oxygen “langars” are being displayed and tweeted about. A man live tweeted while waiting for a hospital bed and passed away waiting. World news reports show headlines like Why second Covid wave is devastating India?, How India failed to prevent a deadly second wave?, ‘A horror story on repeat’: India’s Covid crisis, India state elections go ahead as deaths hit record high and ‘It feels like we’re back to square one in India’.

Lockdowns and its effectiveness

We are back to the all-familiar lockdown now. It’s the last-ditch effort by the government to contain the spread. One can argue and wonder if these do really work in a country like India. The population density is so high. In some places, there are 30-40 people living in one small building with one common toilet. Does social distancing even work here?

We could have been more creative about our lockdowns by focusing on areas with a larger spread rather than making them across the board. I guess the government has had no choice here due to the lack of resources for the implementation of such specific lockdowns. Also, one must appreciate the fact that this year, it has been more of localised state-wide lockdowns than a nationwide one. They are doing their best under the circumstances, I guess.

For the past year or so, countries around the world have adopted restrictions in some form or the other including lockdowns. The governments of the more developed, richer nations have managed to sustain the economic fallout by supporting their entrepreneurs, businesses, and workers through incentive packages. Some fellow entrepreneurs/businessmen I know in Germany and USA have received cash incentives directly credited to their account and other ways of financial support too. Unfortunately, our government does not have the wherewithal to do that, unlike the richer nations, and long lockdowns are not really an answer for our nation as it can cripple the economy so badly, push many daily wage earners, small businessmen, vendors etc. into deep poverty and create non-COVID related loss of life.

Powerful images of millions of workers walking thousands of miles to reach home from last year’s nationwide lockdown was gut wrenching. Another powerful image of a poor old man saying, “We will die of hunger before virus can kill us”, rings in my mind.

Impact on India’s image and on its businesses

What does this do to the world perception of India and Indian businesses?

The ongoing second wave of COVID-19 is sure to, and is already dampening the pace of recovery for Indian businesses. There is reduced production as factories are unable to function with full capacity. We have no choice but to worry about our people’s health and life, but wish there were better ways to manage the economy too.

While the world is offering us their sympathies and help from a humanitarian perspective, doing business with them will be a different ballgame for India now. We are already seeing the change with rising prices. People will sympathise and pity India, but no one will want to risk their business here.

If businesses cannot run as usual, we will end up losing out to a point of no recovery.

We spoke about businesses moving from China to India, but the reality is far from it. China managed the situation and India has not been able to. This shows a risky business environment in India. At the end of the day, the world will look at China as being highly effective in controlling the pandemic and the world will buy from them as they continue to be cost effective. Emotions aside, ultimately, it is the money that speaks!

As we get past this pandemic and move towards normalcy, apart from kickstarting our economy, I do believe we have to ensure that we work on creating a new narrative for India and changing the perception of the people around the world, lest we lose this battle of being the global back-office and cannot even dream of getting close to China as the “Factory of the world”.

Perception is reality until proven wrong.

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