As the second most populous country on the planet, the world risks ignoring India’s coronavirus crisis at its own peril.
India’s already stretched healthcare system is on the brink of total collapse.
Black market oxygen tanks and medical centers with of rows of patients struggling to breathe, look more like a scene from Dante’s Inferno, than a hospital on the outskirts of the capital Delhi.
And while his countrymen struggle to breathe, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi looks down from his ivory tower and rolls out ambitious plans to redevelop his capital city and build a new parliamentary building in the midst of the worst healthcare crisis in his country’s history.
Even as the U.S. bounces back from the ineptitude of its previous leader, rolling out vaccinations at record pace, and reopening its economy to strong growth, India, which had been on the mend, looks set to descend into chaos.
A key supplier of information technology and customer services, many of America’s top companies outsource large parts of their business to India, and unless the healthcare situation there improves, U.S. firms are at risk of experiencing business disruption the same way that the coronavirus pandemic severed highly optimized supply chains in other areas of the global economy.
Investors would have noted how a chip crunch has affected companies from Ford to Apple, despite record quarters, and a disruption in IT and backend office services could threaten to derail other American companies that outsource to India as well.
Of the U.S. firms that outsource to India, these are the five that appear the most vulnerable at the moment – Ford (-9.41%), Cisco (+0.68%), American Express (+1.37%), General Electric (+0.01%) and Microsoft (-0.81%).
Most of these companies mainly outsource IT and customer service to India, but some also have deeper relationships to the subcontinent, with General Electric maintaining a research center there as well.
And unlike other parts of the world, many IT and customer service workers in India are not properly equipped to work from home, with many coming from impoverished rural areas in the outskirts of urban centers and with patchy access to the internet or IT equipment.
Indian outsourcing centers tend to be large companies that then subcontract those functions to smaller operators.
These smaller operators tend to centralize their IT and infrastructure in cramped office conditions – the use of laptops and remote working facilities is rare in India.
It’s tempting to assume that because India provides IT and customer service outsourcing, workers can easily afford to work from home – but high speed internet and dedicated phone lines are not as well established or available outside of urban office environments.
Which has meant that millions of IT and outsourcing workers continue to pour into often cramped and poorly ventilated offices where they risk being infected, or infecting others.
It’s bad enough when the office IT guy falls sick, but what happens when the world’s IT guy falls sick?