Message from the virus: Our individual security and welfare cannot be divorced from the collective

Times of India

The Covid-19 crisis has highlighted, around the world, the need for national resilience in the immediate context of the pandemic. Equally, it draws attention to humanity’s global interdependence that is critical both to short-term security in areas like health and medicine and to long-term prosperity through trade that supports employment.

Indeed, the crisis has brought home, in John Donne’s resonant meditation composed four hundred years ago, that “no man is an island”.  A virus that likely leapt from a bat to a pangolin to a single human just a few months back, rapidly took wing across the world, causing unprecedented loss of lives, and the toll continues to mount.

This pandemic is a harsh reminder of humanity’s collective vulnerability, especially in an age of seamless global interconnectivity. This is a wake-up call that we’re reaching the limits of what the planet can sustain. Going forward, business and commerce cannot be viewed in isolation, divorced from nature or the physical environment. For instance, the behavioural shift towards WFH and reduced business travel needs to be made lasting, also on account of its beneficial effects on the environment.

A common enemy can be a powerful galvanising and unifying force. There has never been a comparable struggle in human memory that has united the whole world against a singular adversary. Covid-19 has underscored the need for us to collectively prepare for future events, from disease outbreaks to climate change, that could take an even greater humanitarian and economic toll if left unaddressed.

The imperative for collaborative multilateral responses and initiatives must be embraced and institutions upgraded or created to facilitate such collective action. The pandemic has brought into focus the need for quality healthcare for all, as well as for rapid and coordinated measures to contain infectious outbreaks. It has re-emphasised the importance of the WHO and of cooperation among national disease control agencies.  Global safety nets – health and economic – are essential.

The value of timely, publicly available information and robust protocols has become increasingly clear. As the world confronts Covid-19, a major problem that emerged is the shortage of key pieces of equipment, including masks, test kits, and ventilators. At a national level, this situation has highlighted the need to build strategic reserves of equipment, medicines, and other essential items. A nation’s collective health security is as important as geopolitical security.

Business and social infrastructure and transactions are moving to the cloud, at a scale and speed not seen before. The pandemic has exposed the compelling need for the development of robust infrastructure and improved logistics.  These will enhance the overall productive capacity of the economy and its global competitiveness. There is also a need to develop innovative financing solutions, placing emphasis on collaboration and shared responsibilities across public, private and non-governmental organisations.

The risks of single source supply chains have now become painfully evident. In order to emerge stronger from this crisis, supply chain resilience and agile business models will be imperative. A silver lining for India is the opportunity that the diversification of global supply chains presents for enhancing levels of inward investment and employment generation.

The unfolding crisis has also triggered introspection and debate around the theme of global versus local – and about the dialectics of self-reliance versus global interdependence. These need not be perceived or pursued as the false dichotomies they seem to suggest at first glance: this is not a zero-sum game. Regional supply chains can enhance the resilience and competitiveness of global supply chains.

The journey towards ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ can be traversed harmoniously alongside the goal of creating manufacturing capacity that makes India more competitive, enabling greater integration with global supply chains. Such an approach will have significant positive knock-on effects on job creation and economic prosperity.

In the closing lines of that poem, Donne says “send not to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.” Indeed, we are all in this together, all countries, all peoples, the haves and the have-nots. The message that this virus has conveyed to us is that our individual security and welfare are fundamentally and indissolubly dependent on our collective welfare and security globally.