Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Sunday urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to adopt a more “nuanced approach” to the fight against COVID-19 as a complete lockdown could result in a “catastrophic” loss of life.
In a letter to the PM, he said the rush of youth back to villages would endanger the lives of the elderly population. He said the government should take such an approach “that takes the complex realities of our people into consideration”.
In his letter, released by the Congress party hours after the Prime Minister's Mann Ki Baat address , he also offered suggestions to deal with the exodus of migrant workers, informal sector and financial institutions as the Congress leader anticipated a further extension of the lockdown.
“It is critical for us to understand that India’s conditions are unique. We will be required to take different steps than other large countries who are following a total lockdown strategy. The number of poor people in India who are dependent on a daily income is simply too large for us to unilaterally shut down all economic activity. The consequences of a complete economic shut down will disastrously amplify the death toll arising from the virus,” Mr. Gandhi said in the letter, released by the Congress party hours after the Prime Minister’s Mann Ki Baat.
“Our priority must be to protect and isolate the elderly and vulnerable from the virus and to clearly and strongly communicate to the young the dangers of proximity to older people,” he said.
“Millions of India’s elderly live in villages. A complete lockdown and the resulting shut down of our economic engine will almost certainly ensure that millions of unemployed youth rush back to their villages, increasing the risk of infecting their parents and the elderly population living there. This will result in a catastrophic loss of life.”
Mr. Gandhi suggested strengthening the social safety net and use of every public resource to support and shelter the working poor as the sudden lockdown had created immense panic and confusion.
He pointed out how closure of factories, small industries and construction sites had forced tens of thousands of migrant labourers to walk home to their villages and were stranded at various State borders.
“It is important that we help them find shelter and provide them with money directly into their bank accounts to help them tide over the next few months.”
The Congress leader noted that the actual economic impact would be felt in a few weeks from now and stressed on the importance of “protecting the financial and strategic institutions from the shock wave that is bound to come”.
“Our informal economy and immense network of small and medium businesses and farmers are going to be vital to any rebuilding effort. It is crucial that we engage them in a conversation, build their confidence and protect their interests with correct and timely action,” he said.
The Congress leader also requested the government to set up big dedicated hospitals with thousands of beds and ventilators and “dramatically increase the number of tests that we are carrying out to get an accurate picture of the spread of the virus”.
“We stand together with the government in fighting and overcoming this tremendous challenge,” Mr. Gandhi said.