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In letter to PM Modi, Sonia Gandhi says 21-day coronavirus lockdown a ‘welcome step’

Sonia Gandhi assured PM Modi of the Congress' support and said it will cooperate with the Centre's efforts to contain the Covid-19 pandemic. Read her full letter here.

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New Delhi: Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi Thursday voiced her support to the 21-day lockdown announced in view of the coronavirus outbreak, and suggested several measures such as protection of doctors, easing the supply chains and deferment of loans.

In a letter addressed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Gandhi stressed on the need to provide doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers with personal protection equipment, including the N-95 mask and hazmat suits.

Further, she said it was “imperative for each one of us to rise above partisan interests” and honour our duty towards India.

This is the second letter Gandhi has written to the Prime Minister over the prevailing coronavirus crisis. In a letter dated 23 March, she asked the Modi government to provide financial aid to construction workers and labourers hit by the lockdown.

Here is the full text of Gandhi’s latest letter to Modi:

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic sweeping across the world has caused serious public health concerns, anguish and apprehensions across our country. 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.

The 21-day ‘Nation-wide Lockdown’ announced by you as a measure to fight the Coronavirus is a welcome step. 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. It is in the spirit of solidarity and cooperation therefore, that I would like to suggest some measures that I believe will help us to address 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.

1. It has been announced that the Union Government has allocated Rs.15,000 Cr to fight the Coronavirus including meeting the requirements of our doctors, nurses and health professionals. I would like to re-emphasize the urgent need to arm our doctors, nurses and health workers with ‘Personal Protection Equipment’ including N-95 masks and hazmat suits.

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. Health Professionals and their support teams risk their lives to work at the frontlines of the battle against COVID-19. I believe we owe it to them to provide every protection and incentive we can.

Also read: What is PPE, and why it is essential in the fight against coronavirus

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

3. Given that even the most advanced and developed healthcare systems in the world are facing an overload of patients and crumbling under the weight of the sheer numbers of affected persons, the Union Government could immediately commission and begin construction of temporary facilities with large numbers of ICUs and ventilators in geographical areas where the outbreak is expected to be concentrated in the near future.

4. Daily wagers, MGNREGA workers, factory labour, construction & unorganized 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. I have suggested some such measures in the succeeding points.

5. The 21-day Lockdown comes at the peak of the harvesting season. The agricultural crop is ready for harvesting in most states by the end of March. With nearly 60% of India’s population being economically dependent on agriculture, it is imperative that the Union Government should take necessary steps to enable harvesting and procurement of crops at MSP. This is also the right time to suspend all recoveries from farmers for a period of six months and to consider indebtedness relief liberally.

Also read: A lockdown is the health response to fight coronavirus, but where is the economic plan?

6. I sincerely believe that implementing the Minimum Income Guarantee Scheme i.e. ‘NYAY Yojana’ proposed by the Indian National Congress is the need of the hour. At this time of immense distress for the poor who are going to weather the major economic fallout of this pandemic, it will give them a basic economic resource to fall back on.

Alternately, a cash transfer of Rs.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.

May I also suggest distribution of 10 kg of rice or wheat per family member to every ration card holder through PDS free of cost as a special measure to tide over the difficulty of the next 21 days.

7. Salaried class employees are also bearing the brunt of the harsh measures required to contain the spread of the disease. The Union Government might consider deferring all EMIs for a period of six months. The interest being charged by the banks for this period may consequently be waived. Similarly, all loan installment deductions from the salary of government employees may also be deferred for six months.

8. All businesses, particularly the Micro, Small & Medium businesses, have been facing unprecedented distress from before the onset of the pandemic. The pandemic has increased their distress multi-fold. The Union Government must consider announcing a comprehensive sector-wise relief package including necessary tax breaks, interest subvention and deferment of liabilities.

Mr. Prime Minister, if implemented, these measures will reaffirm our commitment to each and every one of our citizens when they most need support and protection. We in the Congress Party stand with the people of India at this time of national crisis and we extend to the government, our full support and cooperation.

Also read: AIIMS plans to use prototype of ventilators for Covid-19 patients due to shortage


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