Congress President Sonia Gandhi on Thursday said that the ongoing 21-day lockdown was necessary to contain the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic but the “unplanned manner” of implementation had caused “chaos and pain” for millions of migrant workers. She called for the government to put in place a comprehensive strategy to handle the crisis.

Addressing a meeting of the Congress Working Committee, her son and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said the party needed to act like a watchdog. He said India had to prepare for “economic devastation” due to Covid-19. The party’s senior leader P Chidambaram said the government had not understood the enormity of the crisis, adding that the Congress should engage with the administration while supporting it, but also point out its shortcomings.

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Sonia Gandhi said there is “no alternative to constant and reliable testing” and it is the most effective way to combat Covid-19. She said personal protective equipment must be provided to health workers “on a war footing”, and hospitals should have ventilators, isolation beds and breathing equipment.

“The onus lies on governments to ensure that the spread of infection and casualties are not caused owing to lack of infrastructure or preparedness,” Gandhi said.

The Congress president said the Covid-19 pandemic had led to an unprecedented health and humanitarian crisis. She said it was heartbreaking to see “lakhs of people walking for hundreds of kilometres towards their villages without food or shelter”. She also pointed out problems faced by farmers, medium and small businesses, and those working in the unorganised sector.

Gandhi urged the Centre to come up with a “common minimum relief programme”. “This is vital and will help alleviate several of the concerns that currently afflict all people,” she said.

In its statement after the meeting, the Congress also listed the order of priorities for the government. The party said that the government’s first priority should be to contain the spread of coronavirus by strengthening the healthcare system. Second, the government must support the migrant workers, farmers and people who have lost their jobs. The party added that the government must then ensure the uninterrupted supply of essentials and lay the foundation for rebuilding the economy.

During the meeting, two chief ministers – Amarinder Singh of Punjab and Bhupesh Baghel of Chhattisgarh – complained that the Centre had not yet released their states’ due payments, and it was hampering their work.

Baghel said his state had decided to test all 2,000 persons who have returned from foreign trips.

By Thursday morning, India had confirmed 1,965 positive cases of Covid-19, including 50 deaths. A nationwide lockdown is in place since March 25, and will continue till April 14.