Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Sunday urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to adopt a "nuanced approach" and not enforce a total shutdown on economic activity to contain COVID-19 outbreak, saying the lockdown has created immense panic and confusion.
India's conditions are "unique", he said in a letter to the prime minister, suggesting that the government take such approach "that takes the complex realities of our people into consideration".
"It is critical for us to understand that India's conditions are unique. We will be required to take different steps than other large countries who are following a total lockdown strategy," he said as he highlighted the plight of migrant workers.
The former Congress chief said the number of poor people dependent on a daily income is too large in the country to unilaterally shut down all economic activity.
"The consequences of a complete economic shut down will disastrously amplify the death toll arising from the COVID-19 virus," he cautioned.
"The sudden lockdown has created immense panic and confusion," he said, adding that factories, small industries and construction sites have closed, tens of thousands of migrant labourers are trying to walk home to their villages and are stranded at various state borders.
Highlighting that they are rendered vulnerable without their daily wages or access to nutrition and basic services, he said "it is important that we help them find shelter and provide them with money directly into their bank accounts to help them tide over the next few months".
A complete lockdown and the resulting shut down of economic activity will almost certainly ensure that millions of unemployed youth rush back to their villages, increasing the risk of infecting their parents and the elderly population living in villages, the Congress leader noted.
"This will result in a catastrophic loss of life."
"Our priority must be to protect and isolate the elderly and vulnerable from the virus and to clearly and strongly communicate to the young the dangers of proximity to older people," he noted.
Gandhi extended cooperation to the government to fight coronavirus.
"We must immediately strengthen the social safety net and use every public resource we have to support and shelter the working poor," he said, noting that large population centres will require big dedicated hospitals with thousands of beds and ventilators.
He said "while it is critical that we start setting up these structures and manufacturing the equipment that would be required, as fast as is humanly possible, at the same time we need to dramatically increase the number of tests that we are carrying out to get an accurate picture of the spread of the virus and to contain it".
"It is also absolutely critical that we set up a defensive wall around our key financial and strategic institutions to protect them from the shock wave that is bound to come as the true impact of the virus and our economic shutdown hits us a few weeks from now," he said.
Gandhi said the informal economy and immense network of small and medium businesses and farmers are going to be vital to any rebuilding effort and it is crucial that we engage them in a conversation, build their confidence and protect their interests with correct and timely action.