The COVID-19 pandemic is 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. 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. This decision to remain at home will restrict the transmission of this virus. All of us must spread awareness that frequent hand washing, not touching the face and reporting all flu and influenza like conditions to medical help line or a doctor needs to be adhered to.
As the entire nation stands united in our joint fight against COVID-19, I would urge the Prime Minister & the Government to action some key issues:-
1. Testing is the key to prevention. In a nation of 130 crore, 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 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.
2. There is uncertainty and lack of information about number of beds, isolation chambers, ventilators, dedicated medical teams, medical supplies etc. including their location. This information including location of each hospital and their emergency phone line numbers should be publicly shared. A dedicated portal for sharing these and all other necessary information is one way forward. Special budgetary allocation is an equally important factor.
3. 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 with coronavirus are of great concern. 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.
4. Equally alarming 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, etc. seem to be rising unchecked daily.
5. After demonetisation and slowing down of Indian economy, COVID-19 has been a huge setback to millions of daily wage earners, MGNREGA workers, adhoc 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.
6. All businesses, especially the Micro, Small & Medium businesses, are under a 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.
7. 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. Government must consider a special relief package for the agriculture sector also.
Lastly, under the present circumstances, it is only natural to be anxious. 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.