Rahul Gandhi. (File Photo)
Two days after Congress president Sonia Gandhi wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, asking him to make available one-time state transport services to those walking to their hometowns or villages, former party president Rahul Gandhi on Sunday said millions of young people rushing back to their villages will increase the risk of infection for the elderly population living there, resulting in a “catastrophic loss of life”.
In a letter to Prime Minister Modi, he said it is important that the government “consider a nuanced approach that takes the complex realities of our people into consideration” and argued that “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”.
Referring to the 21-day lockdown, Rahul said he thinks the “government will eventually extend this even further” and argued that “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 shutdown will disastrously amplify the death toll arising from the COVID-19 virus. Millions of India’s elderly live in villages. A complete lockdown and the resulting shutdown 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.
Rahul said the sudden lockdown has created “immense panic and confusion” as tens of thousands of migrant labourers rendered vulnerable without their daily wages or access to nutrition and basic services are trying to walk home to their villages and are stranded at various state borders. “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,” he said.
“We must immediately strengthen the social safety net and use every public resource we have 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,” he said.
He also suggested that the government insulate key financial and strategic institutions 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”.
“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 added.
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