NEW DELHI: Alleging that the management of the first and second wave of COVID by the Centre was “disastrous”, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday released a ‘white paper’ by the party on the handling of COVID-19 and urged the Union government to prepare for the third wave by improving medical infrastructure and carrying out vaccination on a war footing to protect all Indians.
Claiming that 90 percent of the COVID-19 deaths in the second wave were “needless” as they were due to oxygen shortage, Gandhi, who held a virtual press conference on the pandemic situation, also took a swipe at Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying his “tears did not save the lives, but oxygen could have saved them”.
The Congress leader, however, said the aim of the ‘white paper’ was not to point fingers at the government but to help the nation prepare for the third wave of infection as the whole country knows that a third wave will strike.
Asserting that the 150-page-long document was a result of discussions within the Congress and with experts, Gandhi said it has ‘four-pillar’ strategy–information and insights into what went wrong and how to correct them, preparation for the third wave, which includes developing critical infrastructure like oxygen and other medical supply and the idea of an economic assistance package to assist the poorest and the weakest.
The fourth element of the paper is to have a COVID compensation fund.
Attacking Gandhi over the ‘white paper’, BJP leader Sambit Patra accused him of playing politics over COVID crisis, and said when something good happens in the fight against coronavirus, the Congress and Rahul Gandhi “specially do something to derail it”.
“Yesterday was a significant day when India became the first country in the world to administer 87 lakh vaccine doses in one day. People seemed excited and jubilant. There is a feeling that India is winning in its fight against coronavirus, just then Rahul Gandhi spoke of white paper and tried to derail it,” BJP national spokesperson said.
Gandhi said,”Yes, good work has happened yesterday (highest number of vaccines administered) but this is not a series of events. The government has to make this process work not just for one day but every day until we have vaccinated our whole population.”
The Congress leader also urged the Central government not to have bias against non-BJP-ruled states and treat all states equally for COVID-19 vaccinations.
Hitting out at the Prime Minister, Gandhi alleged that he did not take the second wave seriously as he was busy fighting elections in West Bengal and his focus was elsewhere.
“The Prime Minister’s tears cannot wipe the tears of those who lost the lives of their dear ones.
The families know that when their father, mother, brother, sister died, the Prime Minister was not there.
The PM’s tears did not save the lives of those who died, but oxygen could have saved them,” he said, while taking a swipe at the PM for turning emotional during his address to the nation earlier this month.
The former Congress chief said doctors have told him that “90 percent of the deaths during the second wave were needless.
They could have been saved had timely oxygen and medicines been provided to them”.
Around 3.89 lakh COVID deaths have been reported in India so far with a majority of them during the second wave.
The country’s daily infections have on Tuesday come down to 42,640 new cases, the lowest in 91 days, after reporting over 4.5 lakh cases during the peak.
The former Congress chief said it is pretty clear that the management of the first and second wave was “disastrous” and the party has tried to point out reasons in its white paper.
“This is a blueprint on how to react to the third wave, which is going to come. The idea behind our white paper report on COVID-19 is to provide insights and information so that avoidable deaths can be prevented in the coming waves. GOI must work on our constructive inputs in the interest of the country,” he later tweeted.
Asserting that the central pillar to fight COVID was vaccination, Gandhi said it was important that “we aggressively do vaccinations and cross this bridge over 100 percent vaccination as soon as possible, because that is the only protection.”
“It is important that the government prepares itself for what is going to come,” he said, adding that it needs to have the infrastructure ready, which was not there during the first and second wave, and have oxygen supply and medicines required ready.
Noting that vaccinating 50 percent of the population would not help, he said everyone should be vaccinated as fast as possible.
“Vaccinations should be done fast on a war footing, as a mission”.
“If the second wave was bad, the third wave would be worse,” Gandhi said, and added that the virus is smart and is mutating fast and the government has to evolve a dynamic and responsive vaccine policy by selecting vaccines that are effective.
He also attacked the Centre for not giving compensation to families of COVID victims, and said if the government can take money out of their pockets as tax on fuel, why can’t it pay adequate compensation to those who lost earning members.
Gandhi also said that this is not the time for claiming victory over COVID as the virus has hurt the country and will continue to hurt in the third wave and the consequent ones.
Urging the Prime Minister to step up vaccine production for the benefit of all, he said he should “not get into marketing gimmicks, as done in the past”.
He also alleged that the government was hiding the truth about the number of COVID deaths.
“In my view, the number of death is at least 5-6 times (more),” he alleged.
But, it is not productive for us to now get into the discussion of how many people have died, he added.