Making a strong pitch for SAARC nations to jointly combat coronavirus, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday, 15 March, in a video conference, proposed setting up a COVID-19 emergency fund with India committing USD 10 million initially for it, and asserted that the best way to deal with the pandemic was by coming together, and not growing apart.
"I propose we create a COVID-19 Emergency Fund. This could be based on voluntary contributions from all of us. India can start with an initial offer of 10 million US dollars for this fund," Modi said.
Apart from Modi, Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Maldivian President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, Nepalese Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, Bhutanese premier Lotay Tshering, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Special Assistant to Pakistani Prime Minister on Health Zafar Mirza, participated in the video conference.
The underlying message of the video conference was unitedly taking on the pandemic, but Pakistan used the occasion to raise Kashmir, with Mirza calling for the "lockdown" to be eased in Jammu and Kashmir to deal with the coronavirus threat.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that 'prepare, but don't panic' has been India's guiding mantra in dealing with the virus outbreak.
He further stated that, so far, “our region has listed fewer than 150 cases but we need to remain vigilant."
“The step-by-step approach has helped avoid panic, we have made special efforts to reach out to vulnerable groups. We have worked to quickly ramp up capacity in our system including through training our medical staff across the country,” PM Modi said.
Apart from the emergency fund, he made the following proposals:
- Help from Indian rapid response teams, of doctors, specialists and testing gear.
- Online training for SAARC nations' emergency response staff.
- Follow-up video conference of doctors and health officials.
- Assessment by the region's trade officials on the impact of the pandemic on intra-regional trade and development.
- Sharing the software of India’s Integrated Health Information Platform for Disease Surveillance and usage training.
- Using the SAARC Disaster Management Centre to identify and popularize best practices.
- ICMR's help to set up a Research Platform for sharing ideas for diagnostic and therapeutic interventions for diseases.
- India setting up a website with COVID-19 information in all SAARC languages.
‘Our Economy Has Taken a Severe Blow’: Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka President
Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, while video conferencing, emphasised on the need for South Asia to share ideas and best practices in order to face up to the challenge of the rapid spread of the virus.
Rajapaksa further stated that Sri Lanka’s economy has taken a severe blow due to COVID-19.
“Our economy was just recovering, our exports are also adversely affected, therefore I strongly recommend SAARC countries to form a mechanism for our economies to tide over this period. Ministerial level groups should be formed,” he mentioned.
The Sri Lankan government has taken the necessary steps for those returning to the country by putting them in a 13-day quarantine in selected quarantine centres, he added.
Maldives Backs Coordinated Approach to Deal with COVID-19
Maldives President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih in the video conference of all SAARC member countries over coronavirus said that there are 13 confirmed cases and no death has been reported yet.
“Dispersed islands make it easier for us to isolate communities, whenever someone is ill. But it is costly to transport the person to the capital for intensive medical care,” he said.
He backed the coordinated approach to deal with COVID-19 and said that no country can deal with the situation alone.
Afghan Proposes Tele-Medicine to Combat the COVID-19
Ashraf Ghani, president of Afghanistan, while sharing his views on the need for a common cooperative framework, proposed tele-medicine to combat the novel coronavirus. Ghani welcomed the initiatives suggested by PM Modi and called for nations to keep an eye on the evolving situation due to coronavirus.
All Third World Countries Should Fight the Pandemic: Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh PM
Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina addressed the SAARC leaders and said that the government has kept four new hospitals to deal with coronavirus patients. She further said that while no local case has been reported, two new imported cases from Europe were reported.
“Makeshift hospitals also at bay if needed. All third world countries need to collaborate to fight the pandemic. We have to collaborate our expertise resources if required. It is extremely important to establish institution to handle such medical emergency, if such emergencies arise. Bangladesh will be happy to host such institution,” she said.
Collective Efforts to Help Devise Robust Strategy: KP Sharma Oli, Nepal PM
Nepal Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli said that collective efforts will help us devise a sound and robust strategy for SAARC region to fight coronavirus.
Need to Leave Differences Behind: Bhutan PM
Bhutan Prime Minister M Lotay Tshering, too, acknowledged that all the countries need to come together to fight the spread of novel coronavirus.
While speaking at the SAARC video conference over coronavirus, he said, “I think it is very timely and I would like to thank PM Modi for his excellent leadership to bring all of us together because togetherness is required at all times but when the world is fighting one common disease, it is very important to leave behind our differences.”
Modi on Friday had proposed formulation of a joint strategy by the SAARC nations to fight coronavirus, a suggestion that was backed by all the member states.
Calling on the SAARC nations to set an example for the world, Modi had reached out to the eight-member regional grouping and pitched for a video-conference among its leaders to chalk out a strong strategy to fight coronavirus, which has killed more than 5,000 people globally.
His appeal got a prompt response from Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa, Maldivian President Solih, Nepalese Prime Minister Oli, Bhutanese premier Tshering, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Hasina and the Afghan government, all of whom welcomed the proposal.
Pakistan's response to the proposal came in after the rest, with the country's Foreign Office Spokesperson Aisha Farooqui saying Mirza will be available to participate in the video-conference.