Noting that "precaution and prevention" were amongst the most effective remedies against coronavirus, Congress President Sonia Gandhi on Saturday called for testing all cases under surveillance and sought a comprehensive sector-wise relief package to deal with the economic impact of the threat of disease on various sections.
In a statement, Gandhi urged people to stay indoors unless very necessary and not panic. She also sought a relief package for the agriculture sector and incentive for doctors, nurses and supporting staff.
She said India appears to have underutilized its public and private sector capacities for COVID-19 testing despite early warnings.
"Testing is the key to prevention. In a nation of 130 crores, only 15,701 samples are reported to have been tested so far. Despite ample time, early warnings and lessons from other nations, we appear to have underutilised our public and private sector capacities. This must change. We must begin by testing all cases under surveillance and expand to all other symptomatic cases and those coming into contact with the ones testing positive," she said.
The Congress chief suggested a dedicated portal that will have information on the number of beds, isolation chambers, ventilators, dedicated medical teams, and medical supplies.
Gandhi said that the government has to put in place broad-based social protection measures including direct cash financial help to daily wage earners.
"After demonetisation and slowing down of Indian economy, COVID-19 has been a huge setback to millions of daily wage earners, MGNREGA workers, ad hoc and temporary employees, labourers, farmers and those in the unorganized sectors. Even for regular employees, reports suggest massive lay off and retrenchments. Government has to put in place broad-based social protection measures including direct cash financial help to these sections," she said.
The Congress chief said that the government and the RBI must consider a deferment of EMIs for the salaried class.
"All businesses, especially the Micro, Small and Medium businesses, are under huge stress on account of COVID-19. Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. A comprehensive sector-wise relief package needs to be announced forthwith by the government including necessary tax breaks, interest subvention and deferment of liabilities. For the salaried class, Government and the RBI must consider a deferment of EMIs," she said.
She said that the government must consider a special relief package for the agriculture sector.
"COVID-19 has also impacted the biggest employment generator - the agriculture sector. Our farmers, cultivators and farm labourers are bearing the brunt. To top it, the unseasonal rains and hailstorms across India have added to their woes. The government must consider a special relief package for the agriculture sector also," the Congress leader said.
She said reports suggesting scarcity of Personal Protection Equipments (PPEs) including N95 masks, gloves, face shields, goggles, head covers, rubber boots, disposable gowns for medical teams engaged in dealing with infected or those suspected to be infected were of great concern.
She said the country was proud of its doctors, nurses and supporting staff.
"I strongly feel that grant of special financial incentives for them in these trying times is equally important. Currently, both of these are lacking. As the numbers grow, non-availability of sufficient protective gear and lack of incentives can be a huge deterrent," she said.
Gandhi, who is MP from Rae Bareli, said reports of artificial shortages and black marketing of hand sanitisers, face masks and even liquid soap were "alarming".
"It is the bounden duty of the government to ensure adequate supply and take corrective action. What is more unnerving is the fact that prices of essential commodities like vegetables, pulses, rice, etc. seem to be rising unchecked daily," she said.
The Congress chief said COVID-19 pandemic was causing grave concern and consternation across the country, endangering lives, affecting livelihoods as also everyday lives of millions of people.
"In this hour of uncertainty, it is my unflinching belief that we will overcome this huge challenge with resilience and determination. Let's not forget that precaution and prevention are amongst the most effective remedies," she said.
Gandhi appealed to people to stay at home and said special care needs to be taken of the elderly.
"I appeal to all fellow Indians to stay at home unless urgency and exigencies demand otherwise. Special care needs to be taken of the elderly and children to keep them insulated," she said.
Gandhi said that the decision to remain at home will restrict the transmission of this virus.
She said it is only natural to be anxious under the present circumstances.
"At the same time, it is important not to be frightened or panic. India will not bow to this painful crisis. Let us stand united in braving this challenge. Together, we will overcome this," she said.
She said people must spread awareness that frequent hand washing, not touching the face and reporting all flu and influenza-like conditions to medical helpline or a doctor need to be adhered to.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has called for Janta Curfew on Sunday as part of efforts to check the spread of coronavirus.
The number of positive cases of coronavirus has reached 283 in the country .
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)