Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Economic Times – ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members

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In the ninth edition of the Peer Learning Series, ETILC members discussed the economic, social and personal implications of the second wave and what corporate India needs to do for the next one year. While, economically most businesses have a strategy in place to handle the current challenges, it is the mental and physical health of employees that is top of mind for Indian CEOs. The condition of those who work in the hospital and pharma industries is the worst as they are most fatigued in the current situation. Most ETILC members have established employee support networks to aid employees who are undergoing mental health issues. Companies have arranged for counsellors who employees can get in touch with free of charge and have also extended Covid insurance to employees and channel partners.

Leaders from the health industry are emphasizing that it is key to prepare employees for what lies ahead. Covid-19 will continue to remain a reality for the next year or so.

[box type=”success” align=”” class=”” width=””] “In Mumbai, the number of cases have come down in the first week of May. However, we still cannot let our guard down. In February we had an average of 600 cases a day, then it went up to eleven thousand and now it is down to 3,500. We still have to do more to bring the virus spread under control,” says Gautam Khanna, CEO, P. D. Hinduja Hospital & Medical Research Centre.[/box]

The cases in Delhi are currently very high and it is being predicted that the situation will also worsen in Bengaluru and Chennai. Even though vaccination is important it is not the final cure that most are expecting it to be. One cannot expect to take two doses of a vaccine and expect that everything will go back to normal. While the second wave will subside shortly across the country and the economy will open up again, it is inevitable that there will be a third wave.

“From an epidemiological standpoint pandemics last two years and since we are now a denser population than ever before, it will not be surprising at all if this takes another year to subside,” says Sanjiv Navangul, MD & CEO, Bharat Serums and Vaccines

For the next three months, the focus of the central government is on two vaccines – Covaxin and Covishield. However, by Q3, more vaccines will be available in the Indian market and the volume of vaccines July onward is expected to be 15 crores/month. By December 2021, healthcare professionals estimate that India would have procured a total of 120 crore vaccines and 60 crore individuals would be vaccinated. If the procurement pace can be further improved, India can reach the target of 100 crore people getting vaccinated – which is what is ideal for a nation with a population of a billion people.

Testing

There are some cases where an individual could test negative for Covid-19 even after doing an RT-PCR test and continue to show symptoms. This is most likely not a fault with the test itself. Because of the pressure on the health system and the large number of tests being done, sample collection is compromised. Also, the viral transport media in which you store the sample has a limited shelf life. Thus, if there is contamination anywhere, it could compromise the results.

“RT-PCR tests are the gold standard for the Covid-19 tests. For some variants the sensitivity does go down, but for the vast majority the accuracy is still 98-99%,” says Amit Chopra, CMD and VP/GM India and South Asia, Thermo Fisher

Medication Myths Busted

Top healthcare executives in the ETILC member group have also advised against falling prey to medication myths linked to Covid-19 cures.

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Action By Corporate India

Private companies are contributing as much as possible to ease the current situation. Bharat Serums and Vaccines for instance is focused on pushing vaccination drives and is adopting villages in addition to getting employees and their families vaccinated. Another focus area is putting up oxygen manufacturing plants within hospital facilities and transportation of oxygen is a big challenge due to a paucity of containers and logistical challenges.

Parexel which conducts clinical trials on behalf of its pharmaceutical clients has not got its over five thousand employees back to work in over 12 months. The company is having discussions with multiple healthcare integrators to increase vaccination and add to what the government is trying to do in addition to tackling immediate employee requirements.

[box type=”success” align=”” class=”” width=””]We are looking at giving salary advances within 24 hours to critical cases because many hospitals are not admitting employees without cash in advance,” says anjay Vyas, Senior Vice President, India Country Head & Managing Director & SBU Head Clinical Trial Supplies & Logistics, Parexel[/box]

While business continuity plans are easy to execute this time, it is medical care and fatalities that corporate India was unprepared to deal with at the current level. Many organizations are focusing on being apolitical and focusing on the right communication.

“As leaders we are responsible for the signals we send and we have to lead by example. Awareness, facts and data are key and we have to clearly communicate what is responsible behavior,” says Anuj Poddar, Executive Director, Bajaj Electricals

Duroflex, a large player in the Indian mattress industry has set up an employee assistance program through which employees can access one-on-one sessions to discuss personal issues. The program has now been running for many months and has been found to be effective. The organization has also decided to turn FY2021 into a 11 month business year and focus on the kind of support employees require.

[box type=”success” align=”” class=”” width=””]“There are no knee-jerk reactions this time. Employees are our topmost priority. There is no thought about layoffs and pay cuts. There is a strong sense of empathy. At this time, Covid-19 is a reality for almost everyone,” says Mohanraj Jagannivasan, President and Business Head, Duroflex[/box]

Henkel India is encouraging Covid-19 appropriate behavior and not asking its close to 1000 employees to step out of the house for work. GMR Group is seeing that involving employees in CSR activities has had a positive impact.

“Through our volunteers we’re reaching remote villages and focusing on education, especially in areas where our projects are running,” says BVN Rao, Business Chairman, Transportation & Urban Infrastructure, GMR

Many organizations are donating ventilators and oxygen cylinders. Companies are saying there is plenty of capability to produce oxygen, the main issue is in transportation as cylinders and trucks are in short supply.

Pregnant Mothers and Under 18

USFDA has already approved vaccination for pregnant mothers and vaccination for under 18 will soon be approved. This is the standard procedure followed with vaccine approvals, once the 18-45 results are seen, the under 18 trials begin. For six vaccines the trials for 12-18 age group are close to being done.

Responsible Communication

CEOs are mindful that there is plenty of misinformation and fake news about new facilities and cures going around and are spending time on communicating more with their employees and passing on only verified information.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Economic Times – ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members

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