Sunday, March 15th, 2020

Modi proposes collective fund to contain corona in SAARC countries

Published 10:37 pm | March 15, 2020

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Online Desk : Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi today proposed a collective emergency fund to regionally combat coronavirus offering US$ 10 million on Delhi’s behalf as seed money as SAARC leaders joined a videoconference at his call to devise ways to face the global pandemic.

“I propose we create a COVID-19 (coronavirus) emergency fund. This could be based on voluntary contributions from all of us,” he said as leaders of the eight-nation South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) joined the summit from their respective capitals at his call.

Modi simultaneously said New Delhi would provide an amount of $10 million as seed money for the proposed fund.

As the WHO has classified the COVID-19 as a pandemic, the Indian premier said, “It is clear that we have to work together. We can respond best by – coming together not growing apart; collaboration not confusion; preparation not panic.”

He also suggested creating a common research platform to coordinate research on controlling epidemic diseases within the South Asian region, saying, “The Indian Council of Medical Research can offer help coordinating such an exercise.”

Modi has advocated for the collective regional efforts of the SAARC countries to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus and said, “Our people-to-people ties are ancient and our societies are deeply interconnected. Therefore, we must prepare together, we must act together and succeed together.”

In this context, he also said that all should bear in mind that the SAARC region is home to nearly one-fifth of all humanity and it is densely populated.

He went on saying, “As developing countries, all of us have significant challenges in terms of access to health care facilities, people to people ties are ancient and our societies are deeply interconnected.”

Noting that India has taken proactive steps including upgraded response mechanism to combat spreading the lethal virus, he said, “We started screening entry into India from mid-January itself, while also gradually increasing restrictions on travel. We have increased our public awareness campaigns on TV, print and social media, we made special efforts to reach out to vulnerable groups.”

Modi also said they have worked to quickly ramp up capacity in the country’s system including through training their medical staffs across the country.

“We are assembling a Rapid Response Team (RRT) of doctors and specialists in India, along with testing kits and other equipment,” he continued.

The Indian premier assured SAARC nations that the RRT will be on stand-by, to be placed at their (SAARC countries) disposal, if required.

He said that they had set up an Integrated Disease Surveillance Portal to better trace possible virus carriers and the people they contacted.

“We could share this Disease Surveillance software with SAARC partners, and training on using this. Looking ahead, we could create a common research platform, to coordinate research on controlling epidemic diseases within our South Asian region. The Indian Council of Medical Research can offer help coordinating such an exercise,” he added.

Expressing his concern about the uncertainty of the outcome of taking measures to combat the virus, Modi said none can predict with certainty how the situation will unfold despite their best efforts.

He said that is why it will be most valuable for all to share their perspectives as all of the SAARC nations must also be facing similar concerns

“We have now built up a protocol for such evacuations, including carrying out testing by our mobile teams deployed abroad. We recognised that other countries would be also concerned about their citizens in India. So we briefed foreign ambassadors about the steps we were taking,” he added.

Sharing India’s experiences to combat the spread of the COVID-19, Modi said: “prepare but do not panic” has been India’s guiding mantra.

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has called for a strong collaboration among SAARC nations in devising a collective strategy and mobilising resources to combat coronavirus as she joined the videoconference with her counterparts and leaders in the region.

“We need to devise a strong SAARC-wide strategy to combat this public health threat and to protect our citizens,” she said.

The Bangladesh premier added: “We need to forge collaboration through our collective capacity, expertise and resources.”

“The whole world is suffering . . . I think for the first time it is happening,” Sheikh Hasina said referring to the gravity of the crisis.

She suggested that the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) secretariat could coordinate the regional collaboration on the coronavirus for the safety and security of the people in the region.

Apart from Modi and Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Maldivian President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, Nepalese Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli, Bhutanese premier Lotay Tshering, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Special Assistant to Pakistani Prime Minister on Health Zafar Mirza participated in the video conference.

Participating in the videoconference, the SAARC leaders called upon economists to devise a mechanism to help minimize the impact of coronavirus on trade and commerce in the region.

During the videoconference, Nepalese Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli said collective efforts will help SAARC nations devise a sound and robust strategy.

“Our collective wisdom and efforts will help us devise a sound and robust strategy for the SAARC region as we fight COVID-19,” he said.

Bhutanese Prime Minister Lotay Tshering described COVID-19 as “unseen common enemy of all”

“Togetherness is required now. As we cannot see our enemy with our naked eyes, it is very important to come together and leave our differences,” he said.

Lotay called upon the SAARC nations to think of long term impact of the coronavirus.

He said that Bhutan so far detected a single case of coronavirus this month and handled the situation within a very short time.

Later, the country managed to identify all 40 primary contacts from three different parts of the country on suspicion, he said.

The Bhutanese premier said they managed to send medical team in the vulnerable areas while the Bhutanese King himself coordinated the whole thing carefully to tackle the situation.

In the videoconference Pakistan was represented by Prime Minister’s special assistant Zafar Mirza who said “prevent, detect, respond and conduct research along the way has been Pakistan’s approach”.

He said that Pakistan has been alert to the danger and have put in place required protocols and measures for safety of the nationals.

“We have strongly advised against panic, a calm calculated and deliberate response is the need of the hour,” he said.

Zafar added that Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan is personally overseeing the efforts to mitigate coronavirus.

With over 155,000 infections, 5833 deaths and 138 countries involved, no nation and no region on earth can afford to be unresponsive, he said.

Maldivian President Ibrahim Solih stressed on taking up coordinated approach to deal with COVID-19, saying no country can deal with the situation alone.

Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajpaksha put emphasis 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.

“Our economy has received serious blow, particularly tourism sector which was just recovering after last years’ terrorist attack. I strongly recommend SAARC leaders to formulate a mechanism to assist our economies to tide over difficult period,” he said.

Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani said that they are in an unknown situation and proposed monitoring the impacts and scenarios saying assumptions from the US, China and Iran are not suitable.

He further proposed to create common framework for telemedicine for SAARC nations.

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