New Delhi: Congress MP Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday criticised Prime Minister Narendra Modi and sounded a warning as he released a white paper to help the government prep for a third Covid wave – which experts say will likely be inevitable as the virus acquires mutations linked to immunity evasion.
“90 per cent of people who died (in the second wave) could have been saved. Biggest reason (they died) was lack of oxygen. PM’s tears can’t wipe families’ tears… his tears can’t save them, oxygen can. But he didn’t take it seriously as his focus was on Bengal (elections),” he said.
Rahul also questioned the government’s inability to compensate families for losing their primary earner to COVID-19, pointing out the centre is “making ₹ 4 lakh crore from petrol and diesel (price hikes)”. “Families who have lost breadwinners must be compensated,” he said.
Mr Gandhi, who has been critical of several aspects of the government’s handling of the pandemic and its policy, said the paper was a “blueprint on how to react to the third wave… to provide the government with information and insight on what went wrong (handling the second wave)”.
“Covid is going to be disastrous for this country in the third wave,” he said.
“We have prepared a white paper not to point fingers but show shortcomings and hope that, in the future, this will be addressed. The entire country is aware a third wave is coming… and the government must be prepared for this… that is our purpose,” he stressed.
Gandhi said consultations with experts had yielded a four-pronged approach.
“Central pillar is vaccination. It is very important we have aggressive, 100 per cent vaccination,” he said. The second pillar, he said, is to ensure adequate numbers of hospital beds and medical resources, including oxygen (and oxygen plants), medicines and equipment like ventilators.
On the question of pace of vaccination Mr Gandhi did have praise for the government, after a record 86.16 lakh vaccine doses were administered on Monday.
“Yes… good work happened yesterday, but the government has to make this process work not just for one day but every day… until we’ve vaccinated our whole population,” he stressed, adding, “The government must not view states as BJP-ruled or opposition states. There must be no bias.”
Rahul Gandhi also once again flagged the need for direct cash transfers to the poorest sections of the population – those who have been worst affected by the pandemic and the lockdown.
“Covid is an economic and social disease too. We have given NYAY concept…if PM doesn’t like the name he can change it but the aim is to have money reach the poor people,” he said.
The second Covid wave wrought havoc in India, with lakhs infected and thousands dying every day. At its peak over four lakh new cases and more than four thousands deaths were reported per day.
The number of deaths has since been questioned, with comparative analysis of mortality data indicating that several states have unaccounted deaths running into tens of thousands.
The undercounting of deaths was only one aspect of the second wave though; hospitals overflowed with patients, medical staff were traumatised and medicines were in short supply.
In particular, the lack of oxygen for patients on life support made headlines, with the centre and states squabbling over responsibility and the Supreme Court forced to intervene.
Rahul Gandhi highlighted the undercounting of deaths as he released the white paper, saying: “The government is hiding data on deaths… it is at least five to six times more.”