NEW DELHI: Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Saturday urged people not to panic in view of the coronavirus outbreak and called upon the government to take steps including stepping up testing facilities and a comprehensive relief package for the affected due to the economic fallout of the virus.
She said the country will not bow down to this painful crisis and suggested a comprehensive, sector-wise relief package was required to be announced by the government to support those hit by its economic fallout.
In a statement, the Congress chief urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the government to increase the number of testing facilities across the country and make public the details of hospitals and medical facilities through a dedicated portal.
She also pitched for a special budgetary allocation for enhancing the facilities to combat the virus.
"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, the government and the RBI must consider a deferment of EMIs," the Congress chief said.
She called for special financial incentives for those manufacturing protective gear to combat the virus.
Gandhi said COVID-19 was a huge setback for millions of daily wage earners, MGNREGA workers, ad-hoc and temporary employees, labourers, farmers and those in the unorganised sector.
"Even for regular employees, reports suggest massive layoffs and retrenchments.
The government has to put in place broad-based social protection measures, including direct cash financial help to these sections," she said.
The Congress chief noted that all businesses, especially the micro, small and medium ones, were under a huge stress on account of the coronavirus outbreak.
Gandhi said COVID-19 has also impacted the biggest employment generator - the agriculture sector - and farmers, cultivators and farm labourers are bearing the brunt.
"Government must consider a special relief package for the agriculture sector also," she said.
She said precaution and prevention are amongst the most effective remedies as she appealed to all fellow citizens to stay at home, unless urgency and exigencies demand otherwise.
"As the entire nation stands united in our joint fight against COVID-19, I would urge the Prime Minister and the Government to address some key issues," she said, adding testing is the key to prevention.
The Congress leader said in a nation of 130 crore, only 15,701 samples are reported to have been tested so far, adding despite ample time, early warnings and lessons from other nations, we appear to have under-utilized 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.
Gandhi noted that there is uncertainty and lack of information about number of beds, isolation chambers, ventilators, dedicated medical teams, medical supplies, including their location.
This information including location of each hospital and their emergency phone line numbers should be publicly shared, she said.
She said reports suggest scarcity of Personal Protection Equipments (PPEs) including N95 masks, gloves, face shields, goggles, head covers, rubber boots and disposable gowns for medical teams engaged in dealing with infected or those suspected to be infected with coronavirus.
"We are proud of our doctors, nurses and supporting staff. At the same time, I strongly feel that grant of special financial incentives for them in these trying times is equally important. Currently, both these are lacking. As the numbers grow, non-availability of sufficient protective gear and lack of incentives can be a huge deterrent," she said.
Equally alarming, Gandhi said, are reports that there is artificial shortages and black marketing of hand sanitizers, face masks and even liquid soap.
"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, seem to be rising unchecked daily," Gandhi noted.