Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Thursday said the nationwide lockdown is not a solution to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, but like “a pause button”.
“A lockdown is in no way a solution to the virus, it is as if you hit the pause and stopped the virus until the lockdown ends,” Gandhi said in a virtual press conference. “When we come out of the lockdown, the virus is going to start its work again. It is very important that we have a strategy to come out of the lockdown.”
He added that the lockdown has given time to put in medical resources and ramp up the country’s testing abilities and create an “architecture” that is required to fight the pandemic. “In no way does the lockdown defeat the virus, it stops the virus for some time,” Gandhi said.
The former Congress president urged the government to test “aggressively and strategically”. “Currently testing levels are too low,” he added. “I am proposing scaling up testing. One advice to the government is, push testing aggressively. Maximise testing and use testing strategically, to assist states in their fight.”
He continued: “Our testing rate is 199 out of a million. All tests that we have done in last 72 days works out to an average of approximately 350 tests per district.”
Gandhi, an MP from Kerala’s Wayanad district, said the government has to move to random testing and pre-empt the direction the virus is moving towards. “We are in a very serious situation,” he said. “All political parties and people have to work together if we want to solve this problem and defeat the coronavirus.”
He said the main force in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic is working at the state and district levels. “Success has been achieved in Wayanad because of the effective machinery at the district level,” Gandhi said. “Fight against the coronavirus should not be top-down but bottom-up. Prime Minister Narendra Modi should empower states and give them money. Now we have reached a level, where we are in an emergency situation. India must unite and fight against it. My main suggestion is that blunt instruments must not be used. We must work strategically and use resources effectively.”
The Congress leader said coronavirus cannot be controlled but has to be dynamically managed. “The Centre needs to control the main arteries but states need to control their area,” he said. “If some states want more nuanced lockdown, they should have the choice.”
He said the Narendra Modi government should create a food safety net and implement the NYAY programme the Congress had unveiled during the 2019 Lok Sabha election campaign to help the poor. Gandhi also predicted a “massive financial backlash”, adding that the first wave of unemployment was already on its way. “We must ensure that in protecting lives, we don’t destroy our economy completely,” he said.
Gandhi said the Centre should also create defensive package for micro, small and medium enterprises and protect big strategic companies.
He also said the chief ministers should decide when to relax or lift the lockdown. “We are a decentralised country,” he added. “The response in Kerala is different from, say, in Uttar Pradesh.”
When questioned where the prime minister went wrong, Gandhi replied: “I will give the answer the day we have beaten the coronavirus”.