Congress President Sonia Gandhi on Thursday expressed solidarity with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to impose a 21-day countrywide lockdown in view of the coronavirus outbreak and proposed measures to blunt its impact on the economy and livelihoods of people. The toll in the coronavirus epidemic in India rose to 13 on Thursday, and the total number of infections increased to 649, according to the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

In a letter to the prime minister, Gandhi said the pandemic has caused serious public health concerns, anguish and apprehensions in India. “It has imperiled lives and put at risk the lives and livelihoods of millions, particularly, the most vulnerable sections of our society,” she added. “The entire nation stands as one in solidarity in the fight to halt and defeat the coronavirus pandemic.”

The Congress chief said it was everyone’s duty to rise above partisan interests and serve the country and humanity at large in this time of crisis. “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,” Gandhi said.

She then suggested measures that, she said, would help address the massive health crisis and provide relief to vulnerable sections of the society.

The Congress chief stressed that all healthcare professionals such as doctors, nurses and workers be provided N-95 masks and hazmat suits, among other equipment for their personal protection. “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’,” she added.

A special “Risk Allowance” package for healthcare professionals should be announced retrospectively from March 1 for a period of six months, Gandhi said. She further claimed the lack of information about the availability of healthcare facilities in India in terms of designated hospitals, their locations, number of beds and isolation chambers has created a sense of panic among people. She suggested that emergency phone line numbers and dedicated portals be set up to facilitate the dissemination of crucial information.

As the country’s economy faces the severe whiplash of the pandemic, many business and companies were laying off and retrenching large numbers of regular and temporary employees. Gandhi demanded the Centre should immediately make arrangements for “broad-based social protection measures,” including direct cash transfer for the section of people who face the risk of losing their source of livelihood.

She also sought a deferment of all loan recoveries for up to six months, including those for farmers and the salaried class.

In another letter dated March 23, the Congress president had urged the prime minister to roll out emergency welfare measures for construction workers and those in the unorganised sector because of the ongoing lockdown to fight the coronavirus pandemic. In separate letters to the chief ministers of Congress-ruled states, Gandhi urged them to help the construction industry workers.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a 21-day lockdown for the entire country, stating that it was the only way to break the chain of infection. The lockdown will be in effect till April 14.