New Delhi, April 16: Calling for a united fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Thursday said a lockdown is not the solution to defeat coronavirus, and asserted that aggressive testing is the “biggest weapon” to fight the virus.
Addressing a press conference via video-conferencing, he also cautioned against making claims of “premature victory”, saying it can prove fatal, in an apparent reference to remarks by some leaders that India was doing much better in tackling the pandemic as compared to several other nations.
Noting that the ongoing nationwide lockdown is like a “pause button”, the former Congress president said,”in no way does a lockdown defeat the virus. It stops the virus for some time. The biggest weapon to fight the virus is testing. Testing at scale so you know where the virus is moving and you can isolate it and target it.”
On Monday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi extended the 21-day nationwide coronavirus lockdown, which was imposed on March 25, by additional 19 days till May 3.
Gandhi also claimed that scale of testing in India has been low so far at 199 per 10 lakh people which makes it around 350 tests per district while asserting that it was not enough to tell which way the virus is moving.
However, the BJP took a swipe at Gandhi for his remarks on the lockdown, and asked why Congress-ruled states extended it before the central government did so.
“Lockdown is not the solution according to Rahul Gandhi … Then why did the CMs of Congress (or) partnered governments extend the lockdown first …? (sic),” BJP general secretary (organisation) B L Santhosh tweeted.
Not only Punjab, where there is a Congress government, but also Maharashtra, where it is part of the state government, have extended the lockdown till April 30 before Prime Minister Modi’s announcement on April 14 to extend the shutdown.
The ICMR also countered Gandhi’s low testing charge, saying for each positive case the government tests 24 people which is much more than other developed countries.
BJP leader Sambit Patra also tweeted few short clips from Gandhi’s press conference to mock him.
“One more strategically controlled & dynamically managed statement,” Patra tweeted along with a video clip in which Gandhi talked about “dynamically managing the virus, which cannot be controlled.”
Exhorting countrymen to shed class, creed and religion in unitedly fighting coronavirus, Gandhi said this country is bigger than any disease as it knows how to deal with much bigger challenges.
“We will win against this virus together. I am absolutely convinced that we will succeed. We will defeat this virus and India will come out at a better place,” the Congress leader said, adding that the country could lose this fight if people remain divided.
He also asked the government to quickly resolve the issue of the migrants “stranded at various places without food and money”, and said if the government failed to do so it might lead to social unrest.
The government needs to handle this situation with extreme care and gentleness, he added.
Gandhi also called for a provision of food to be distributed among the poor and marginalised, while providing a safety net for the MSMEs and other strategic industries, which foreign entities may be eying for takeovers.
Noting that testing is the main weapon against the virus, he said it has to be used like a strategic weapon as currently we are chasing the virus.
“If you have to fight the virus, you have to increase testing dramatically and your testing has to go from chasing the virus to moving ahead of it. That means you have to move into random testing,” he noted.
The Congress leader said experts across the world and in India say that a lockdown is like a “pause button” and it “is in no way a solution to the virus”.
“When we come out of the lockdown, the virus is going to start its work. It is important that we have a strategy in place to come out of the lockdown,” he said, adding that it is time to ramp up testing and put adequate medical infrastructure in place when the virus picks up again.
“No one will be harmed by testing. It should be done on a large scale. But India will have to unite to fight the virus. Caste, religion and creed will have to be forgotten in fighting this virus,” he said.
He also suggested giving more power to state CMs to handle migrants and they should do aggressive testing and checking.
Calling for a “strategic opening” of the lockdown, Gandhi suggested opening certain key areas and to use testing to identify hotspots.
“This is where ramping up testing is important, to dynamically identify the hotspots,” he said and suggested creation of two basic zones — a hotspot zone and a non-hotspot zone.
The Congress leader said the pandemic will have a negative effect on the country’s economy, while adding that people are becoming unemployed and “it is going to get worse”.
He also called for protection to farmers, saying a package needs to be given to them.
“Hence, you need to think and move strategically,” he said, adding that there is going to be a massive financial backlash due to COVID-19 and waves of unemployment that will put a huge pressure on our financial system.
The Congress leader also called for granting adequate resources to states to help them deal with COVID-19 in a “nuanced” manner. He insisted that there is a need for devolution of powers to the states to help them effectively deal with the situation. (PTI)