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Govt can tap industry if COVID-19 vaccine budget is a problem

The government can tap the industry if it lacks the funds to procure Covid-19 vaccines, India’s technology leaders told ET, adding that the strategy must be to vaccinate the country’s population on priority.

“If budget is a problem, please open it up to the industry. Let the government procure, we will help. You know (budget) that’s the last thing we should be worried about as a nation,” said Debjani Ghosh, president of the IT industry lobby group, National Association of Software and Services Companies (Nasscom). “Get the vaccination strategy right, fix the supply issues, have a strong procurement model, which is looking at whatever’s available out there (globally) and (focus on) how do we get it to India.”

India’s IT industry, which employs over 4.6 million people, is witnessing double-digit growth rates as clients increasingly invest in technology to transform their businesses. Multinational companies are also hiring to expand their captive centres in India.

Several Indian IT firms such Tata Consultancy Services Ltd. (TCS), Infosys Ltd., Wipro Ltd. and Tech Mahindra Ltd. are working to source vaccines from manufacturers and inoculate their employees as well as their dependents.

Nasscom has urged the government to allow procurement of vaccines approved by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and liberalise the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) to ensure that its customers and individuals can provide relief and contributions to tackle the pandemic.

“For India, with a population of 1.3 billion, the only way is to have public-private partnership in procuring, distributing vaccines, and ensure that every person is vaccinated,” Ghosh said.

Genpact, India’s largest BPM firm, has seen the public-private partnership model work in sourcing vaccines in the Philippines and Romania to inoculate its employees, said Chief Executive Officer Tiger Tyagarajan. “That’s not right for us (India) to be lagging behind in this where we manufacture so many vaccines,” he said.

Continued testing and mass availability of antigen and rapid testing kits should be made available in the country, like how it was done in the Philippines, Romania and United States, till most people are vaccinated, he added.

The United States, UK and Israel are the three countries that have vaccinated most of their population, said Nitin Rakesh, CEO of Mphasis.

“I don’t think there are any two ways about it. We need to prioritise vaccination,” he said.

In a survey by Nasscom of its 250 large companies, all of them said they were focusing on health and safety of employees, mental well-being and followed by cybersecurity and operations. Over 80% of the survey respondents said that they did have an impact on the workforce, but it was in the range of 2-3%.

More than 90% reported absolutely no business effect and of the remaining, less than 3% said there was a hit on business. “Resilience and empathy have really stood out in the second (Covid-19) wave,” said Nasscom’s Ghosh.

The leadership of captive units of global companies are stepping up their engagement with employees and competitors are also supporting each other, said Punit Sood, head of Natwest Group India. 24HTech.Asia

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