By Priya Tiwari
COVID-19 has undoubtedly changed many aspects of how we live our life; it has been more than two years since the virus has wreaked havoc, with the new variant causing additional distress. In their efforts to curb the spread, both the Union and the State governments have been pulling up their guards to deal with the virus. According to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, India has reported over 145581 active cases so far. The last few days have witnessed fresh restrictions being imposed by the states in view of the rising cases. While it is necessary the government take precautionary measures to curb the spread, it is also important that the government do it without creating a potential disastrous impact on the economy.
COVID pandemic is clearly one of the rare events that has completely transformed the way we live, the way we socialise, the way we study, the way we do our business and the way we shop. With very little control over the situation, the global community initially struggled to start living the ‘normal way’. While the understanding of what normal is still evolving, the underlying theme of what defines new normal remains common – digitisation of all core activities.
With the development of the digital economy, and the current COVID-19 crisis, the future of the global economy will have everything to do with digitalization. With the help of technology, businesses have drastically adopted a digital character for various activities including manufacturing, client servicing and delivery of goods and services to all. Government’s aim of ‘power to empower’ and increase in internet and smartphone penetration in the country driven by the ‘Digital India’ programme has supported this transformation.
The pandemic has further accelerated the scale and scope of such advancement with several retailers joining the e-commerce bandwagon. The immediate economic appeal is obvious – the pandemic has highlighted that the channels, which allow third-party sellers to list, sell and ship items on an established retailer’s site, have proven to help business stay afloat even in times of economic distress. In addition to that, retailers have been trying to use online marketplaces to revitalize sales for over a decade. COVID-19 has definitely led to the growth of such platforms which has gained significant traction from both consumers and sellers.
Not only has e-commerce helped retailers stay afloat but also helped customers have access to goods without having to step out. From food, groceries, medicine, to clothing and electronics – our reliance on such services has ensured that citizens’ safety is not compromised along with encouraging SMEs to adopt the ‘contactless’ model of work to survive both present and future crises. With a focus on digitisation of SMEs, several e-commerce companies aim to digitise SMEs, thus helping Indian businesses grow by selling online worldwide. Imposing restrictions to halt the production, operation and delivery of such goods will be a massive blow to these sellers.
With the expected advent of the third wave, looming uncertainty has once again led to the imposition of fresh directions to restrict movement. However, our previous experiences have proven that leaning on the side of stringent restrictions can have a potentially disastrous impact on the economy which is on the upswing. The last two lockdowns since 2020 have had a detrimental impact on all business activities especially for SMEs. The expectation that the government will allow for unrestricted activities will also depend on the efforts businesses make to adopt and adhere to necessary COVID protocols of vaccination, wearing masks and maintaining social distance. While it is true that home delivery of all items helps individuals to stay indoors thus reducing the spread of the virus, it is also equally important that businesses act responsibly and adhere to safety guidelines for COVID.
Leaning on lessons from the previous two lockdowns, it is the need of the hour that the government in their directives will be mindful of the implications of the restrictions to the business. Reducing regulatory uncertainty will go a long way in supporting small businesses and allow for smooth operations of economic activities. In order for masses to remain indoors and maintain COVID-19 protocols of social distancing, it is important the government continue to allow uninterrupted access to all goods and services and allow for functioning of all business activities, especially where minimal contact is required.
(The author is Manager, Policy Advocacy & Research at Aakhya India, a full-service strategic public affairs consultancy firm specializing in communications and policy advocacy, based out of Delhi. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproducing this content without permission is prohibited).