Avalon's CEO reflects on the way forward for Covid-19 response

06 April 2020 Consultancy.in 6 min. read

India stands at the brink of a crisis, and the comprehensiveness of its response going forth is key for how the economy and businesses will come out of the crisis. CEO of management consultancy Avalon Consulting Sridhar Venkiteswaran puts forward a number of recommendations for navigating the change. 

According to the government of India’s website, there are more than 2,000 active cases of Covid-19 in India as of April 3rd, with 56 fatalities. The figures are low when compared to some of the worst-affected countries, but many predict that this is the still before the storm. As of March 25th India has entered a government-mandated lockdown for three weeks.

The lockdown will at best, contends Venkiteswaran, ease pressure on health services and “flatten the curve,” but by no means will is stop the spread of the virus. As a result, the lockdown needs to be complemented with a number of other government-mandated measures.

Sridhar Venkiteswaran, CEO of Avalon Consulting

Economic interventions

One of the priorities for the government has to be reining in the economic damage that is being caused by Covid-19 disruption. Not only does this include significant measures to support businesses with their survival, but it also pertains to protecting the daily wage of workers across the country who have been worst affected by the lockdown.

Wage labour remains a key part of India’s economy, be it in terms of household help, construction or security, and a sea of workers found themselves without a livelihood when the country locked down on March 25th. These workers need basic necessities such as food and shelter, and Venkiteswaran calls for a number of measures to ensure that these needs are met. These include more spending on government food and livelihood schemes, as well as respite on loan and rent payments, among a number of others.

The government has made progress on the topic, recently announcing a $22 billion package aimed at protecting and saving daily wage workers. Venkiteswaran lauded the government’s mid-March boost to excise duty on fuel, although he fears that the benefits from this might well be offset by an overall dip in fuel consumption as India remains under lockdown.

“We should be targeting to spend between $60 billion and $70 billion to save the Indian economy,” says Venkiteswaran, who has been with Avalon Consulting for over three decades.

Mass testing

Managing the economic fallout aside, the government also needs to focus on containing the virus. Social distancing might help slow the spread, but this is only truly effective if combined with mass testing. Venkiteswaran draws on the successful response seen in China, South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore, where the emergence of cases in specific clusters was almost immediately followed by expeditious mass testing in these clusters and their isolation.

This should not only include areas where the virus has emerged, but also those where it might be expected to emerge. Testing has to be mandatory, according to Venkiteswaran, but can vary in type. Crucial to the end of detection and containment is ramping up antibody tests.

“We should be targeting to spend between $60 billion and $70 billion to save the economy,”
– Sridhar Venkiteswaran, CEO of Avalon Consulting

Antibody tests detect antibodies to the virus, which are potentially useful to identify affected individuals who might not be displaying symptoms. The benefit of an antibody test is not only to catch the virus early and arrest further infection, but it also presents the opportunity to gather useful data.

Analysing data to reduce the rate of transmission

For instance, monitoring those who have antibodies to see if they develop symptoms or not could prove useful in determining factors that exacerbate the emergence of symptoms. There are also other benefits.

“By indicating how much of the population is already immune because of mild Covid-19 infections, antibody data could offer a key to how fast the virus will continue to spread,” says Venkatiswaran. This will immediate action on the government’s behalf.

“Protocols could be developed to run the confirmatory test for cases which remain asymptomatic, say beyond 7 days. This will help us generate data on the share of population which naturally develops the immunity and other cases which develop,” he continued.

The data could also help determine areas where it is safe to reopen schools and other activity, and also understand more about the virus’ effect on children, which remains underanalysed. “In the longer term, antibody tests will also help researchers understand how long immunity to the virus lasts, a key issue for any future vaccine development,” Venkiteswaran remarks. Involving the private sector with its wealth and infrastructure to support this is key.

Leveraging technology and big data

To this end, the private sector could be of tremendous help, particularly tech businesses. Venkiteswaran points to China and South Korea, where apps have been developed to trace contact and inform authorities of areas or individuals that need to be quarantined. The real time detection and tracing allows for the immediate containment of the virus, and has tremendous potential to slow its spread.

India’s tech sector is competitive with these markets in its innovative capabilities, which means the country has the potential to leverage similar mechanisms.

In the long run

All these measures together might help with the crisis response, allowing India to lift is lockdown at the earliest possible date. At present the lockdown is expected to lift on April 14th, but Venkiteswaran warns that things will not just go back to normal in the near future.

He compares the scale of Covid-19’s impact to 9/11, in the restrictions and considerations that it will impose on travel and daily life in general. The economic repercussions, meanwhile, are positioned to be worse than those of the global financial crisis in 2008, according to McKinsey & Company estimates.