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Coronavirus | Sonia Gandhi writes to PM Modi, expresses support for lockdown and offers suggestions

Personal protection equipment, risk allowance for doctors, nurses and health workers are among the suggestions put forward by the Congress president

Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Thursday wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, expressing support for the 21-day lockdown to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and offered some sector specific suggestions.

“As president of the Indian National Congress, I would like to state that we will support and collaborate fully with every step taken by the Union government to ensure the containment of the pandemic. At this challenging and uncertain time, it is imperative for each one of us to rise above partisan interests and honour our duty towards our country and indeed, towards humanity,” she said in a letter that was released by the Congress.

“It has imperiled lives and put at risk the lives and livelihoods of millions, particularly, the most vulnerable sections of our society.  The entire nation stands as one in solidarity in the fight to halt and defeat the Corona pandemic,” she added.

The Congress chief also offered some suggestions in the spirit of “solidarity and cooperation” for the “massive health crisis we are about to face and to ameliorate the immense economic and existential pain that vulnerable sections of our society will soon be subjected to”.

“It has been announced that the Union government has allocated ₹15,000 crore to fight the Coronavirus, including meeting the requirements of our doctors, nurses and health professionals. I would like to re-emphasise the urgent need to arm our doctors, nurses and health workers with ‘personal protection equipment’, including N-95 masks and hazmat suits,” Ms. Gandhi said.

“Let us ensure the opening and scaling up of manufacture and supply of these items so that not a single health professional faces the predicament of contracting or passing on COVID-19 owing to unavailability of ‘personal protection equipment’. Announcing a special ‘Risk Allowance’ for doctors, nurses and health workers for a period of six months retrospectively from the 1st of March 2020, is imperative.”

Over the last few weeks, there had been much uncertainty about designated hospitals and their locations, number of beds, isolation chambers, ventilators, dedicated medical teams, medical supplies, among others.

“This has been caused by a paucity of information. Disseminating all essential information, including the locations of designated hospitals and their emergency phone line numbers is essential to facilitate management of the pandemic. A dedicated portal for sharing these and all other necessary information is one way forward,” she suggested.

‘Temporary facilities needed’

Noting that the most advanced and developed healthcare systems in the world were facing an overload of patients and crumbling under the weight of the sheer numbers, the Congress leader suggested that the Centre should immediately commission and begin construction of temporary facilities with large numbers of ICUs and ventilators in areas where the outbreak could increase in the near future.

“Daily wagers, MGNREGA workers, factory labour, construction and unorganised workers, fishermen, farm labourers and many more form the most vulnerable sections of our society. It has been recently reported that many businesses and companies are laying off and retrenching large numbers of regular and temporary employees. It would be in order for the Union government to immediately put in place broad-based social protection measures, including Direct Cash Transfer, to these sections to tide over the period of difficulty.”

Since the lockdown came just ahead of the harvesting season by March-end and nearly 60% of India’s population being economically dependent on agriculture, the government should take necessary steps to enable harvesting and procurement of crops at minimum support price and suspend all recoveries from farmers for next six months, Ms. Gandhi noted.

The government should either implement the Minimum Income Guarantee Scheme or the ‘NYAY Yojana’, as was proposed by the Congress, or consider a one-time cash payment.

“Alternately, a cash transfer of ₹7,500/- to every ‘Jan Dhan’ account holder, ‘PM KisanYojna’ account holder, all old-age widow/differently abled person’s pension account, MGNREGA worker’s accounts, as a one-time special measure to tide over the 21-day lockdown period should be considered,” she said.

Other suggestions included the distribution of 10 kg of rice or wheat for a family to tide over the lockdown, deferring EMI payments of the salaried class, deferring all loan installment deductions from the salary of government employees for six months, giving businesses, particularly the micro, small & medium businesses, necessary tax breaks, interest subvention and deferment of liabilities.

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