So India is finally under total lockdown in an attempt to slow down the spread of coronavirus.
While there is some news of a few covidiots stepping out, mostly the message has spread that one must not step out except for something super urgent. The government has also shut down everything from shops and malls to universities and courts.
What is next?
We have heard that the lockdown will continue at least till 15th April, after which the government will decide what to do.
However, if you are expecting that coronavirus will vanish by then, or that lockdowns will be so easy to lift, then you are terribly mistaken.
Experts say that social isolation only slows down the spread of the virus, but cannot completely stop it. The virus could, for example, infect you from the vegetables or the milk carton you bring home, things you get delivered from Amazon, and even from the cooked food you order from outside.
Most people who are infected do not experience any symptoms though. So people would be silently spreading the virus in every community.
The social isolation helps a great deal, but only in terms of slowing down the velocity of new cases. We will not be able to eradicate or stop coronavirus in this way.
Vaccines are likely to be available, according to the French president Emanuel Macron, by the end of 2021. There are other people claiming that a vaccine is around the corner, but most of those people are non-experts and politicians.
I am yet to come across an expert who says we can see a vaccine in the market for coronavirus before at least 12 more months.
So that is the next question.
If social isolation and lockdowns will not stop coronavirus, then what is the other option? How long can we afford to keep people away from work, economy at a standstill, and earnings of most Indians at zero?
China had to begin to lift lockdown measures from the middle of March, after 6 weeks of lockdown across China, and 10 weeks in Wuhan where coronavirus started spreading from.
The Chinese government knows very well that once more coronavirus will begin to spread like wildfire, and will kill 2-5% of the population in all probability. Still, they do not have a choice anymore.
After a few weeks of lockdown, a very prosperous country is already in a very precarious economic situation. How will it continue to pay government workers, keep essential services and hospitals running, and the population fed if nobody goes to work for months?
European countries are facing the same choice now. While they have all opted for lockdown in order to buy time at this point, it is becoming increasingly clear that there is no option but to lift the lockdown in a matter of a few weeks or a few months. No country can afford to keep the entire population under lockdown for 12 months or more until a vaccine is found.
Even if there is any confirmed information of a working vaccine coming in 6 months, can India afford to keep the country under lockdown for that long? That does not look likely for economic reasons.
If the country is kept shut down for months, more people may die due to lack of food, basic health necessities such as sanitation and routine treatments even if not from coronavirus. The government will begin to run out of funds if economic activities are not carried out, and GST is consequently not paid. How will the government ensure treatment for even the coronavirus or other patients? How many months till it runs out of money and can’t pay salary to the government employees?
The economic ruin will be complete and devastating if the lockdown continues. The majority of the population will be pauperized. Even the rich with enough emergency savings will not be spared if there is a lockdown that lasts more than a few weeks. And the government’s finance will go haywire completely, too.
And that is why, I do not believe that India can afford to impose a lockdown that goes anywhere beyond 6 weeks, and we will have to embrace the fact that coronavirus will infect, hospitalize and kill a very large number of people in India. There is nothing we can do to stop that, but we may still be able to salvage our economy.
Experts have predicted a mortality rate between 2-6%, depending on how aged a population is. Given that the Indian population is relatively young, we can hope to keep mortality rates around 2%, which would still mean we could see death tolls over a crore in India, and that a few crores will be very sick. Many will probably die without treatment.
And it appears that there is precisely little that the government can do to stop this now, apart from setting up lots of temporary hospitals and quarantine centres.
If not lockdown then what?
One option is that a majority of the people would have already been infected and cured by their own immunity.
When the government will be able to do antibody testing, they may find out if someone already had coronavirus and has recovered since. If they already have built up the antibody of the same in their blood, they can’t be infected again.
At that point, the logic of lockdown will cease to exist.
The other solution is to end lockdown fully recognizing the human cost of death and sickness, and preventing bigger harm, namely the economy sinking completely and the country descending into complete chaos due to lack of funds.
What else is likely to happen?
Social isolation will continue
British and German government expects that Coronavirus will continue to spread throughout 2020, and keep the government and hospitals busy till March – April of 2021. By then they expect 70-80% of their population to be affected too.
Remember that most of those who got infected will continue to be productive. The vast majority will not even be detected.
Naturally, most people who can afford it will continue to socially isolate themselves during this period as far as possible. Even if they already had contracted corona since and recovered, they may not even realize, and continue to practice social isolation out of precaution.
So prepare for a world in which a lot of people will work from home, most meetings will be online rather than physical even if people are in the same city, and travel will be impacted big time.
Big events cannot be planned and expected any time soon.
We will talk more about how this will play out and specific repercussions on the legal profession in a bit.
Government policy is likely to flip flop and due to all the uncertainty volatility in the stock market will continue. The investment environment will be severely hampered as investors will try to play safe and hold cash. Consumer confidence and purchasing power will hit an all-time low. Tax collections will drop.
A global economic recession seems to be in the offing. It would probably take a year or two before the major economies recover from this.
Massive investment in healthcare
We can expect very big scale investments in healthcare by both government and private parties as a repercussion to this global catastrophe. The lesson from the corona outbreak tells us that there may be more such outbreaks in the future.
And we need to prepare our countries for such things happening again in the near future, apart from increasing spend to handle the current disaster itself.
It turns out at the time of writing that there is another virus in the offing already in China called the hantavirus. We wonder how many more such viral outbreaks will come through in years to come, and given the massive economic cost, governments will be forced to invest in massive disease response infrastructure and private parties will find it profitable to invest as well.
Investment in supply chain and manufacturing in India and South Asia
For a very long China has enjoyed the status of the manufacturer for the entire world. Major multinationals lined up to set up their entire supply chains in China due to favourable policies and business environments.
However, as coronavirus has demonstrated, putting all your eggs in the same basket is way too dangerous.
Let’s take giants like Apple or Samsung for example. Their business continuity has been completely disrupted by coronavirus menace. Their supply chains today stand devastated.
Going forward, these corporations will mitigate their risk and China dependency by setting up new manufacturing hubs in other countries that have favourable climate and market. India appears to be set to attract some of this investment in years to come, especially given that the economy is likely to sink deep, forcing the government into action in terms of reforms and creating favourable policies to attract foreign investment.
Coronavirus disaster could be another turning point in India’s economic history just like 1990’s reforms and globalization of the Indian economy.
As we have seen in India earlier, excruciating and unbearable situations often end policy paralysis here, leading to major reforms, which end up unlocking a massive untapped potential for growth.
Speed up digital transformation and e-commerce
This has already begun. Many businesses resisted digital transformation, trying to operate without technology, or with less technology. Now, companies are being forced to adopt online productivity management and employee tracking systems, task management software, online meeting software, cloud telephony systems, digital payment systems, online customer service software, OKR software, and whatnot.
The disruption will be even more pronounced in government, educational institutes, small businesses which had some insulation from digital transformation till now.
Naturally, SaaS companies and software developers are likely to see a boom in work in months to come.
E-commerce companies and online delivery businesses are likely to do very well as well, as people would be forced to order online rather than stepping out. A lot of brick and mortar businesses are likely to go out of business in months to come, and e-commerce and online businesses will gain further market share as a lot more people in India will learn to and get used to ordering things online.
As cash represents a great risk of spreading the virus, do not be surprised if digital payment takes off in a massive way, and the vast majority of transactions move from cash to digital money.
Education will go online
Schools have been shut down. Universities were forced to move online. Many universities had to move to just pass-fail systems instead of giving grades to students.
The coming year will put the traditional education system on a stress test. The new generation will begin to question why they need to spend tons of money and go to these universities and take on debt if all they are going to get are online classes! Employers may change their minds too about the usefulness of university degrees.
Online upskilling platforms are likely to do very well because a huge number of people will need new skills to adjust to the new world and cater to the burgeoning industry with new skills that are not taught in the universities.
After all upskilling platforms charge a lot less than universities and usually deliver far more return on investment. The forced lockdowns are likely to turn a lot of people to online education platforms as they will have more time to spend on self-development and learning new skills.
As schools and colleges remain shut down, students will spend more time on the internet and consuming entertainment. Some of them may even turn to online learning.
Office work and courts will become virtual
Courts cannot be shut down for long periods, so despite their great apprehensions, judges will be forced to work from home and allow lawyers to do the same, and allow virtual courts. As lockdown persists, they will be forced to adapt to technology.
Filing of papers, documents, appearance of witnesses and everything else will shift online, creating eventual efficiency and speeding up the court system.
Many government officials to date make it mandatory for people to come to their office in person. These practices are going to end because the officials will be scared to meet people and push for digital meetings. Again, this is likely to result in greater efficiency, less corruption and many conveniences for individuals and businesses in the future.
Digital media will gain users but lose advertisers
Subscription-based media companies like Netflix will do very well, but those which depend on advertising will face a hard time. Digital media consumption, nonetheless, will go up big time as people isolate themselves at home.
We may see a drastic drop in physical newspaper subscriptions. The events industry will virtually shut down. Hospitality and in-person entertainment will be in tatters as well until people feel safe again from coronavirus.
When is the economy likely to bounce back?
We could expect a turn around in economic activity within 6 months to 1 year. There are enough triggers already in place for investment and economic growth.
India’s fundamentals are strong. With the government pushed to the brink to introduce reforms and the private sector forced to turn more efficient and lean, and the weak businesses with outdated or weak business models out of business, we can expect very good growth a year or two down the line.
The message is clear – first, survive. If you are confident of survival, invest in growth. Because your competitors will probably be too overwhelmed to invest in growth and systems in the current environment, and many will go out of business making the market open and available to you if you can innovate, and evolve.
These are good times to invest in brand, fundamentals, cutting flab and allocating money where it matters.
How can lawyers make the best of the time ahead?
Tomorrow I will write in detail about the disruptions I expect in the legal industry specifically. Today’s general background was important to set the context for that.
Lawyers should use this time to do the following:
- Deepen your relationship with your existing clients. Call them up, ask how they are doing, if they are safe and if they need any free advice regarding how to deal with repercussions of corona such as delayed payments and breached contracts, help them out.
- Build your brand, deepen your expertise in some area of law, read more, take this time to get physically fit, maybe take up an online course from lawsikho.com or at least attend some free webinars. You can get notifications for free webinars in this WhatsApp group.
- Build your online presence. You can offer some free webinars to your clients. Tweet more, post more valuable insights on LinkedIn. Add potential clients on your social media profile, comment on and engage with their posts. It always helps to build a relationship, and even online relationships can be powerful if you thought otherwise. Request people for online meetings if you want to pitch to them, it is a great time because many of them have less work.
- Seek out a mentor. It will be easier now than ever.
- Take some time to think through your plans. You have time to pause and ponder now. How are you going to grow your practice or get the next big promotion? What can you add to the mix in order to grow faster than ever when this storm is over? Do you have an ace up your sleeve? What is it and how are you going to use it?
- This is not the time for despair, insecurity or laziness. It is time for action because those who take actions in these unusual times will reap rich dividends later. Don’t let this opportunity slip out of your hand, because this is truly a once in a lifetime opportunity.
We have some courses which can really help you in the corona-stricken times and terrible economy because those with these practical skills that we teach will see a very high demand for their skills while many low-skilled and unskilled people will quickly lose their jobs.
Stay safe and keep others safe.
P. S. Confused about where your career is heading? Want to talk to a career counselling expert who can answer your questions and guide you to take your career to the next level? Give us a call at +91 11 4084 5203 and we will get back to you ASAP.