Another former PM writes to PM Modi on suggestions to better India’s COVID-19 fight

Former PM HD Devegowda has written a letter to Narendra Modi, offering a few suggestions to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.
H. D. Deve Gowda
H. D. Deve Gowda
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Former Prime Minister of India HD Devegowda on Monday, April 25, wrote a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi with 16 suggestions on the steps India can take to combat the health crisis amid the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. In his letter, Devegowda said that states and the Union government should work together at the local level to ensure each district administration is equipped to battle the virus. He also asked the PM to ensure each citizen is vaccinated, and that confusion and pricing issues be resolved.

He also said that health administration and COVID-19 management has to be “quickly decentralised” and vaccination trials should also be conducted for children within the age group of 12-15 years, so that they can rejoin schools when the academic year begins. The former PM has suggested that the Union government provide a government job to a family member of COVID-19 warriors who have lost their lives. He has also called for a full ban on large gatherings, and that a larger percentage of our resources should be kept aside for public health.

“I wrote a letter to Hon'ble PM Shri Narendra Modi ji yesterday offering a few suggestions to tackle the pandemic. This is a national crisis and we need to fight it as one nation. We should support all constructive measures taken to save lives and reduce suffering,” Devegowda tweeted, sharing images of the letter he wrote.

Devegowda’s letter comes days after former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also wrote to the Prime Minister, with similar suggestions to combat the coronavirus. While the Health Minister shot back a letter asking the former PM to tell Congress to follow his advice too, the Union government days after heeded many suggestions and opened up the vaccination drive to those between the ages of 18 and 45 from May 1.

Here is what former Prime Minister Devegowda said in his April 25 letter:

Respected Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi ji,

As we are witness to a deadly Covid-19 second wave, and as lines outside graveyards and crematoriums grow, first and foremost, I want to assure you that I will support all constructive decisions and initiatives that the Union government may take under your leadership, to contain the pandemic, spread the vaccination programme, and save lives.

When Covid cases began to surge and the death toll rose in Karnataka, I wrote a letter to Chief Minister Shri B S Yediyurappa on 21 April 2021 offering a few suggestions. Since the letter had a larger resonance, I thought I should give you an overview of the points and add few additional new ones. I am sure you have already been advised on these matters, and you are acting upon them, therefore please pardon my reiteration. This is done with the sole intention that it may be of some help to all those who are at the frontline of the Covid battle across India. I believe that this is a time to act and act swiftly:

1. Health administration and Covid management has to be quickly decentralised. Medical professionals at all levels have to be urgently hired on short contracts to help district administrations. The authority to hire medical and para-medical personnel should be given to district collectors, district health officers and district hospitals. They should actively coordinate the hiring.

2. It is not sufficient to have a war room at the state-level, in state capitals, but there should be war rooms at all district headquarters. This war room should not be disbanded as soon as we see the curve temporarily flatten but should be around until there are clear signs that the pandemic has abated across the globe. I learn that dedicated Covid hospitals and health centers in both private and public sectors across the nation came down by six per cent between December 2020 and April 2021. In reality this should have increased in anticipation of the second wave. Going forward, such decisions to shut down should be taken only after due deliberation.

3. The focus currently has been on big cities. But there is a greater danger lurking in non-urban districts and taluk centers. Village clusters also need urgent attention. The Ministry of Rural Development and Panchayat Raj has to be deployed to coordinate these efforts. All government departments have a role in this health crisis and not just the Ministry of Health.

4. There is no clear messaging on the vaccination front. I realise that there is a lot of confusion among people, especially after the surge of the second wave. Since many people who had taken the first and second dose of vaccination have also been infected there is lurking cynicism about the vaccines. It has to be clearly told that vaccines are the only best thing we have to protect not just our own lives but those of others too. Science has to be placed above every belief we may have and faith we follow. I have read in the newspapers that those vaccinated have revealed that they are experiencing milder symptoms. Scientists and doctors should be involved to develop this messaging with great clarity. Positive public service messaging around vaccines should be of highest importance at this hour.

5. Deadlines have to be created for people to get vaccinated as soon as state governments are confident of its vaccine stocks. Elected representatives at all levels have to be given a specific targets to ensure vaccination in their respective constituencies.

6. The pricing of vaccines has created a lot of confusion. Private players are talking out of turn when such an enormous public health issue threatens humanity. Pricing should be done keeping in mind the poorest in the land. If the government decides to give vaccines free to all citizens that would be a great humanitarian gesture. There should be absolute transparency around this.

7. All barriers of identity proof should be dropped for poor people who come forward to get themselves vaccinated. Not having access to internet and not having sufficient knowledge to register on the government's vaccine portal should not become a barrier to get vaccines.

8. Vaccination trials should be conducted for children within the age group of 12-15 years to ensure that they attend classes when the academic year begins.

9. During the first phase there was an insurance programme for health workers and covid warriors. It is important to update that programme to encompass the needs of the second and future waves. The insurance should be extended to health workers in the private sector as well. Those who work in small nursing homes and medical facilities in non urban areas especially require this. The health workers should feel assured that they and their families will be taken care of.

10. Three months leave with salary for pregnant women working in the government sector should be considered.

11. Grace marks should be given in the NEET postgraduate examination for doctors who have been working in Covid hospitals this academic year. This is because a majority of them have spent their time in Covid duties and have had little time to focus on their exam preparation.

12. We should provide government job to one family member of Covid warriors who have lost their lives.

13. State governments can create an informal communication network to help each other. One Minister in each State can be put in-charge to both seek help from other state governments as well as offer help. This too is cooperative federalism. Members of the opposition with administrative experience should also be roped in. The virus does not understand political partisanship. This is a national crisis, and we should fight it as one nation.

14. All large public gatherings should be banned for the next six months. Steps should be taken immediately to curtail election victory celebrations in States that have gone to polls this month. Since no state legislature's term is expiring after May this year, all by elections and local elections should be postponed by six months. During this period, the Election Commission can evolve new rules for conduct of safe elections, and simultaneously, the vaccination programme has to be accelerated.

15. Government of India should establish State of the art vaccination production centers, one in North India and one in South India, in the immediate future.

16. Plans and efforts to build long term public health infrastructure should begin immediately. A larger percentage of our resources should be kept aside for public health. We should make a commitment in that direction now.

I pray to God almighty that he may give you the strength and courage to take India out of this health crisis.

With warm regards,

Yours sincerely,

HD Devegowda

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