We need to devise ways to combat this pandemic collectively. It demands common efforts
Kathmandu, March 15
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who took the initiative to conduct a video conference with SAARC members to contain the spread of coronavirus, made an initial offer of $10 million for COVID-19 Emergency Fund during the video conference held this evening.
SAARC leaders welcomed Modi’s proposal for the emergency fund and his initiative to contain the spread of COVID-19 pandemic.
“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,” Modi said.
The fund can be used by any of the partner countries to meet the cost of immediate actions.
Modi said India was assembling a rapid response team of doctors and specialists, along with testing kits and other equipment, which will be on stand-by, to be placed at the disposal of the countries, if required.
He added that SAARC states could create a common research platform to coordinate research on controlling epidemics within South Asia.
Modi said his government had set up an Integrated Disease Surveillance Portal to better trace possible virus carriers and the people they contacted, adding that his government could share the disease surveillance software with SAARC partners.
“We must all prepare together, we must all act together, and we must all succeed together,” he added.
Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, who is recovering from kidney transplant, took part in the conference and told leaders that Nepal had taken several measures to enhance its preparedness against the pandemic.
He said his government’s efforts at the moment were geared towards preventing the disease from entering the country.
“Our region is at high risk of COVID-19. The epidemic knows no boundary, nationality or region. We need to devise ways to combat this pandemic collectively. It is a common challenge and it demands common efforts,” said Oli.
The PM said SAARC members might think of developing a SAARC-level mechanism to deal with critical health issues. Establishment of a SAARC emergency medical centre supported by strong funding mechanism is the need of the hour, he added. He said Nepal would join the COVID-19 fund soon.
Oli said regional discussion on reviving the member states’ economies and supporting each other through providing easy access, establishing value chains and promoting intra-regional trade, investment, tourism and connectivity would be critically important. SAARC leaders wished the PM a quick recovery.
President of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani said the greatest vulnerability of Afghanistan was an open border with Iran.
President of the Maldives Ibrahim Mohamed Solih highlighted the negative impact of COVID-19 on the country’s tourism sector.
He proposed to formulate economic relief package and long term recovery plan for the region.
Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa recommended establishment of a SAARC ministerial-level group to share best practices and coordinate regional matters on combating COVID-19.
Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina proposed continuance of the dialogue at a technical level through video conference between health ministers and secretaries of the region.
Bhutanese Prime Minister Lotay Tshering said SAARC members states needed to work together to confront the challenge posed by COVID-19.
Pakistan’s Minister of State for Health Zafar Mirza proposed hosting SAARC Health Ministers’ conference and development of regional mechanisms to share disease surveillance data in real time.
Chiefs of India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, and Afghanistan took part in the meeting. Pakistan was represented by its Minister of State for Health Zafar Mirza.
The video conference was telecast live.
A version of this article appears in print on March 16, 2020 of The Himalayan Times.
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