Companies like MyGate have already experimented with issuing individual passes in partnership with the police. However, they haven’t been able to work out an optimal solution yet. “When we opened it for one minute, we had 16,000 requests,” said DCP Anucheth. “Such a thing would defeat the purpose of social distancing.”
One way to go about issuing individual passes without the fear of infection is to be able to know the health status of citizens. That makes a business case for health and fitness apps, which already use chat conversations to collect data like weight, dietary details, and sleep patterns, among others. It would be easy for these apps to add another layer of health-related questions and do a temperature check. India’s top health and fitness apps are HealthifyMe, which has been downloaded 10 million times on Google Play Store, and GOQii, which has about 1 million installs.
These are hypothetical scenarios, but what is real is that businesses want to come out of quarantine.
The distant ring
The outermost ring of this new order is littered with hopefuls who are not designated as an essential service. Some of these companies are now trying to jump all the way into the innermost magical ring.
Exhibit A: Chinese telecom equipment maker Huawei wants to share its 5G thermal imaging technology with the Indian government for remote temperature monitoring of coronavirus patients.
Exhibit B. Ride-hailing companies Ola Cabs, Uber, and the entire mobility sector have been out of business after the lockdown was imposed. However, Ola recently provided 500 vehicles to the Karnataka government to transport doctors and for other coronavirus-related activities. Uber has also launched UberMedic to transport medical professionals.
Some companies just want to make it into the essential services circle. The mobile phone lobby group has urged the Indian government to include smartphones and laptops in the list of essential items.
Paytm Mall, the e-commerce arm of payments company Paytm*, has stopped accepting new orders for non-essentials like fashion, mobile and white goods. It is speaking to new suppliers who can provide hand sanitisers and preventive ayurvedic medicines, among others.
Grocery has especially become a wild card for companies, with even real estate companies seeing it as a way of being in business. Property portal NoBroker’s society management unit, NoBrokerHOOD, has teamed up with FMCG conglomerate ITC to deliver groceries to gated societies.
Meanwhile, multi-brand online retailer Nykaa is only accepting prepaid orders for essential services like sanitary napkins, hand sanitisers and bath products. The company has also restricted its deliveries to select pin codes in Mumbai, Pune, Delhi, and Bengaluru. However, just being recognised as an essential service is not enough. Even businesses with that privilege will tell you they have been gasping for breath.
The ring of chaos and opportunity
Flipkart briefly found itself in the outermost ring when it had to shut shop for two days after the lockdown was announced. However, it played the grocery card to add itself to the essential services cart. Flipkart CEO Kalyan Krishnamurthy sent an internal email saying the grocery is up and running after a meeting with the Prime Minister’s Office.