With lockdown extended till June 30 from May 31 and no let-up in spread of COVID-19 with new cases being reported in three-digit numbers for the last couple of days , there is no certainty if life can go back to pre-lockdown phase even with major relaxation in guidelines announced by the Centre on Saturday.

As per the new guidelines, the malls, restaurants and religious places can reopen from June 8 except in containment zones and night curfew timings are revised from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m instead of 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. The State government, which has opened up economic activities barring malls and restaurants and pubs in all areas except containment zones, conveyed the message that one has to live with the virus with due precautions and with no vaccine in sight.

The night curfew will continue and it is for the individual to take care of himself and herself while commuting to work or shopping. Given the situation and no large-scale testing happening for the virus in the city and the State, the IT and ITES sector, which had taken to ‘Work From Home’ mode right after imposition of lockdown in March last week, thinks it is better to wait and watch and see how the situation evolves over the next few weeks with new relaxation in guidelines.

Big IT companies with global operations are wary of exposing their employees to the infection with numbers still high and given the concern that there may be a large number of asymptomatic virus carriers moving around owing to lack of testing. In a survey conducted by some MNCs and IT corporates among their employees, they found that only 10% of them were willing to come to their offices from June 1.

Mr. Bharani Aroll, president, Hyderabad Software Enterprises Association (HYSEA), said that though relaxation was given for IT sector to have 100% of their employees working from their offices, the curfew hampers night shifts that have to be aligned with US, UK timings. Even if curfew time relaxations are given, only 2% to 3% more of employees, handling critical services and those handling BPO operations, voice-based BPO requiring uninterrupted service might resume work from office.

At present 90% of the employees have been working from home with digital infrastructure in place and there is no need to immediately ramp up on-site operations. Some IT/ITES companies want to continue WFH mode till June-end, some till September-end and some others till December-end as employees are also apprehensive of the virus.

“The IT/ITES sector is adopting a ‘wait and watch’ policy. It is all about employees’ safety and in case infection spreads at workplace, there is a cost to containing it, loss of productivity besides various other dimensions. When WFH got stabilised during the lockdown, why rattle it when things about COVID are uncertain,” he says.

Mr. Murali Bollu, ex-president of HYSEA says that the night curfew makes it difficult for IT companies due to overlap of timings with their overseas clients. The employees will have to be sent home before curfew starts at night so that they go home and continue work again from home.

Only about 10% to 15% of employees come to work now at clients’ insistence over data security issues. The number of essential services passes given to IT companies to run cabs for employees coming to work is meagre. Thus, night curfew, no intra-city services, virus fears, lack of good number of testing labs to ramp up testing are all issues to resume normal working in companies. He also says there is fear that once the infection spreads to workplace, it can impact several employees affecting business operations. When the employees go back home, they can pass on the infection to their family members, children and parents living with them and that again impacts the productivity of the employees.

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