April 13, 2024


Technology and Age

Corporate Giants Join the Global Race to Fight India Covid Crisis

(Bloomberg) — As Indian authorities and hospitals struggle to cope with record Covid-19 infections and deaths, companies ranging from the nation’s biggest conglomerate to global giants like Amazon.com Inc. are stepping in to help ease the crisis.

Reliance Industries Ltd., controlled by Asia’s richest man Mukesh Ambani, the Tata group, global drug giants like Gilead Sciences Inc., technology titans such as Alphabet Inc. are all rushing in supplies and funds. Blackstone Group Inc.’s Chairman Stephen Schwarzman said his private equity firm is committing $5 million to support India’s Covid relief and vaccination services to “marginalized communities.”

With haunting visuals of mass funeral pyres, long lines of ambulances outside overcrowded hospitals, and desperate pleas on social media for oxygen canisters, the unfolding tragedy is prompting some of the biggest corporations to organize aid for a country they view as a crucial market with 1.3 billion consumers. India’s federal and state governments, grossly unprepared to tackle the latest coronavirus wave, have also encouraged the non-state sector to help narrow the vast chasm of shortages.

Most critical has been the unavailability of medical oxygen, and a bulk of the efforts have been directed at boosting supplies. Ambani’s Reliance, Tata Steel Ltd., ArcelorMittal Nippon Steel India and JSW Steel Ltd. are among manufacturers that have diverted thousands of metric tons of liquid medical oxygen from their plants. Others such as consumer giant ITC Ltd. and the Adani Group — controlled by India’s second-richest man Gautam Adani — are shipping in cryogenic tanks, and offering portable concentrators and generators.

‘More Important’

“Saving lives is more important than producing steel,” said Sajjan Jindal, chairman of JSW Steel, the largest producer of the gas among the country’s non-state companies in India.

State-owned refiners Indian Oil Corp. and Bharat Petroleum Corp. chipped in with oxygen production as well.

Underscoring the severity of the latest wave, official data on Wednesday showed new infections rose by 360,960 in the prior 24 hours, while 3,293 additional lives were lost — both a record for the country. India has the world’s fastest growing caseload. Total confirmed virus cases reached 18 million while deaths topped 200,000, and reports indicated both the numbers may be under counted.

As the enormity of India’s challenges shook the world, Indian-origin technology industry czars have extended help. Earlier this week, Silicon Valley investor Vinod Khosla tweeted an offer to fund public hospitals and import planeloads of bulk oxygen or supplies to India to improve stocks. A day later Microsoft Corp. Chief Executive Officer Satya Nadella said he was “heartbroken” by the situation in India and Microsoft is using its voice, resources and technology to aid relief efforts and help purchase oxygen concentrators.

Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai said in a tweet that Google and its employees would rush medical supplies and support non-profits in a country that’s a sizable market for its products. His company has proffered some $18 million in funding.

Amazon is harnessing its global logistics supply chain to airlift 100 ICU ventilator units from the U.S., and the equipment will reach India in the next two weeks, the company’s local chief Amit Agarwal said in a blog post. The e-commerce giant will help install, maintain and train personnel to use the machines, he said.

Apple Inc. CEO Tim Cook said the iPhone maker would donate relief but didn’t provide details.

Remdesivir Availability

Global drugmakers including Merck & Co. are licensing critical drugs to Indian generics manufacturers. Eli Lilly & Co. offered to donate Covid antibody drugs, while Gilead this week said it would expand the availability of Remdesivir, a drug used to treat symptoms of Covid-19.

Several industry lobby groups are also jumping in. A collective of members of the prominent U.S. India Business Council plans to supply 20,000 oxygen concentrators in the coming weeks. The Confederation of Indian Industry, which counts the biggest Indian companies as members, is setting up a task force to augment supplies of oxygen.

Digital payments startup Paytm said it will airlift 21,000 Oxygen concentrators by early May, and send it to government and private hospitals, and Covid care facilities.

Ambani Philanthropy

The Ambani family’s Reliance Foundation has set up Covid care facilities with 875-bed capacity in Mumbai. The philanthropic arm of India’s most valuable company will newly create, commission and manage 100 ICU beds that will become operational in mid-May. A team of over 500 staffers — doctors, nurses and non-medical professionals — will be deployed round-the-clock to tend to patients.

In a phone interview from New York, Blackstone’s Schwarzman said this is an “exceptionally difficult situation” for India, where the firm has a “large important business.” Blackstone has invested billions of dollars in India and owns many of India’s big office towers.

“Each country, both in the developed and developing world, had great troubles with Covid,” he said. “All countries have learned lessons during Covid and I am sure India will adopt as many of these lessons as they can.”

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