Rahul Gandhi said the government's priority should be to 'protect and isolate the elderly and vulnerable'. (File photo)
Senior Congress leader Rahul Gandhi Sunday wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and urged him to consider the consequences of a "complete economic shutdown" as it may "disastrously amplify the death toll" arising from the coronavirus pandemic.
While backing the Centre in its fight against the coronavirus outbreak, Gandhi said, "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 Covid-19 virus."
Gandhi said the government's priority should be to "protect and isolate the elderly and vulnerable" and communicate to the young the dangers of proximity to older people.
"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," he said.
Suspecting that the government might further extend the 21-day lockdown, Gandhi said it was time to immediately strengthen the social safety net and use every public resource to support and shelter the working poor.
"Large population centres will require big dedicated hospitals with thousands of beds and ventilators. It is critical that we start setting up these structures and manufacturing the equipment that would be required, as fast as is humanly possible. At the same time we need to dramatically increase the number of tests that we are carrying out to get an accurate picture of the spread of the virus and to contain it," Rahul Gandhi said.
On reports of migrants fleeing home stuck at different state borders across the country, Gandhi said, "They are rendered totally vulnerable without their daily wages or access to nutrition and basic services. They are struggling to reach far away homes and seek refuge. 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."
"It is also absolutely critical that we set up a defensive wall around our key financial and strategic institutions to protect them from the shock wave that is bound to come as the true impact of the virus and our economic shutdown hits us a few weeks from now," the former Congress president said.
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," Rahul Gandhi further said.
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