Having invested over $10 Bn in Indian startups, Japanese conglomerate SoftBank’s chief Masayoshi Son has now ended his Twitter break to raise concern on coronavirus outbreak and Covid-19 disease.
In a tweet, Son said, “It’s my first tweet in a long time. I am worried about the coronavirus situation.”
He added that he is also considering the kind of contribution he can make, when followers asked him to do something about the situation. “I will start to take action,” Son added.
In multiple follow-up tweets, Son talked about preventive care and volunteering for coronavirus inspection. He also supported Gates Foundation’s proposal that allows people to test samples at home to avoid increasing the chances of infection. Son said SoftBank is looking to offer free access the polymerase chain reaction testing, also known as PCR, so anyone can get themselves tested easily. Son added that any such tests would be conducted with the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (MHLW).
The Covid-19 disease caused by the novel coronavirus was first identified in Wuhan in China. At present, globally the coronavirus has spread around the world, with more than 116K confirmed cases and 4,000 deaths. Japan has reported close to 1,300 infections, with more than half coming from the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship, and 19 deaths.
In India, the government has confirmed over 60 cases of positive coronavirus patients and claims to have screened over 10 Lakh passengers at airports. As the coronavirus outbreak grips the Indian economy, efforts are focussed around prevention as a cure remains far from reach.
At the same time, customer-facing businesses like Swiggy, Zomato, Ola, Uber and others have not done enough to keep their drivers and delivery executives informed about the coronavirus and the measures they need to take to prevent the spread.
In terms of SoftBank, it had a rocky 2019. While it had set sights on IPOs of major investments — Uber, Wag, Slack and WeWork — the firm had a major setback in terms of these plans. While Uber, Wag and Slack had disastrous public listings, the biggest problem for SoftBank was WeWork’s failed public listing.
Son directly addressed concerns of some US-based private investors last week, saying that the investments will be planned in a more careful manner. Son further reiterated that the company’s ambitious Vision Fund 2 would be scaled down going forward.
However, he expects 2020 and 2021 to be the “best vintage” for the Vision Fund. Son also claimed that roughly 15% of Vision Fund companies would go bust, while 15% would account for 90% of the fund’s profits. However, with startups and economy severely impacted by the coronavirus outbreak, how SoftBank and Son grapple with the aftermath remains to be seen.