Indian Billionaires Hunker Down in Safety Bubbles as Virus Rages
Social distancing bubble dining tents on the roof deck of a restaurant in New York, U.S. (Photographer: Gabriela Bhaskar/Bloomberg)

Indian Billionaires Hunker Down in Safety Bubbles as Virus Rages

Some of India’s richest people are forming bubbles with their families and staff, while others are leaving for homes outside of major cities as a virus resurgence overwhelms the country’s medical system and spurs other nations to shut out Indian travelers.

“I’ve been indoors with my family and our staff, that’s my story,” said Kris Gopalakrishnan, one of the billionaire-cofounders of IT giant Infosys Ltd. who now runs a Bangalore-based venture to support startups. The group are shunning outside contact and only eating home-cooked meals, he said.

Another Infosys co-founder, Nandan Nilekani said in a text message that he was also holed up in his home in the Indian tech capital, as a second, more lethal wave of coronavirus cases sweeps the nation of 1.3 billion people. The return of the virus spurred many wealthy families to flee India, some on private jets, before countries from Australia to the U.K. started to ban flights from what is now the coronavirus epicenter of the world. Others are hunkering down, running vast empires from their homes and helping provide essential aid like oxygen supplies and protective equipment.

Indian Billionaires Hunker Down in Safety Bubbles as Virus Rages

Byju Raveendran, the billionaire founder of India’s most valuable startup, online-education provider Byju’s, is confined with his extended family in a series of houses in Bangalore’s HSR Layout neighborhood -- popularly referred to as Unicorn Row given it’s home to a bevy of startups valued at more than $1 billion.

The family’s personal staff are also sequestered with them, Raveendran said. “The support systems are strong and outside contact has been minimal.”

Ambani, Adani

India’s two richest people have moved to homes in less-populated parts of the country, as the virus hits the capital New Delhi and financial hub Mumbai particularly hard.

Mukesh Ambani, Asia’s wealthiest man, has shifted from Mumbai with his family to Jamnagar -- a township in the state of Gujarat that’s home to Reliance Industries Ltd.’s massive twin oil refinery complex -- according to people familiar with their movements who didn’t want to be named discussing private matters.

Indian Billionaires Hunker Down in Safety Bubbles as Virus Rages

Billionaire Gautam Adani, the second-richest person in India, is with his son Karan Adani and other close family members at their home on the outskirts of Ahmedabad in Gujarat, a person familiar said.

Representatives for the Reliance and Adani groups declined to comment.

India is reporting record numbers of new cases every day, pushing medical facilities and crematoriums to breaking point. People have been pleading on social media for everything from oxygen cylinders to food for the elderly in quarantine, and while parts of the country have gone back into lockdown, there are concerns another nationwide order could be disastrous for the poor and the wider economy.

Diverting Oxygen

International companies are joining local firms and tycoons in providing aid to India.

Ambani’s Reliance Industries is diverting oxygen for medical use from its oil refining complex, while the Reliance Foundation, the group’s philanthropic arm, is also setting up a 1,000-bed Covid-19 care facility there that will provide free treatment to patients. A local media report said Ambani has flown to Jamnagar to speed up relief efforts.

The Adani Group, which operates India’s largest port terminal, has been securing oxygen supplies from Saudi Arabia, Thailand and Dubai, according to a statement Tuesday.

CEO Fund

Startup titan Raveendran has been finding ways to help Byju’s 11,000 workers, many of whom he says are “struggling.” A CEO Fund has been established to meet the hospital expenses of staff and Raveendran says he has been coordinating efforts to corral beds, oxygen concentrators and medicines.

Billionaire Sunil Vachani, founder and chairman of smartphone maker Dixon Technologies India Ltd., is sheltering in his Delhi home with family. They’re following a “no outside contact” protocol, while communicating with colleagues virtually, he said.

Indian Billionaires Hunker Down in Safety Bubbles as Virus Rages

Vachani is also is also overseeing a command center set up by Dixon to link up employees with doctors and source medication. Dixon set up a factory line to manufacture RT-PCR machines last year to bolster India’s Covid testing efforts and is now looking to scale that up, plus import oxygen concentrators that will land in a few days.

“When people phone you from ambulances outside hospital gates, it’s distressing and you do your best to help,” Gopalakrishnan said by phone on Tuesday. “At the back of your mind, there’s also guilt whether you’re taking away the hospital bed from someone who needs it more.”

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