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New Delhi, March 15, 2020
Prime Minister Narendra Modi today called for setting up a COVID-19 Emergency Fund for SAARC countries as part of a common strategy to combat the pandemic in the region.
Interacting with the leaders of the SAARC countries through video conference, Modi said, “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 dollars for this fund. Any of us can use the fund to meet the cost of immediate actions. Our Foreign Secretaries, through our embassies, can coordinate quickly to finalize the utilisation of this Fund."
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Maldives President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, Sri Lanka President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Nepal Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, Bhutan Prime Minister Lotay Tshering and Pakistan Health Minister Zafar Mirza participated in the video conference.
“We are assembling a Rapid Response Team of doctors and specialists in India, along with testing kits and other equipment. They will be on stand-by, to be placed at your disposal, if required,” Modi said.
“We can also quickly arrange online training capsules for your emergency response teams. This will be based on the model we have used in our own country, to raise the capacity of all our emergency staff.
“We 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 impart training on using it,” he added.
The Prime Minister also suggested using the existing facilities, like the SAARC Disaster Management Centre, to pool in the best practices among the grouping.
“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.
“We can also ask our experts to brainstorm on the longer-term economic consequences of COVID-19, and how we can insulate our internal trade and our local value chains from its impact.
“We should also ask our experts to brainstorm, on the long term economic consequences of COVID 19 and how we can insulate our internal trade and our local value chains from its impact,” he added.
Modi said India has not only successfully evacuated almost 1,400 Indians from different countries but also evacuated some of the citizens of the neighbouring countries in accordance with the ‘Neighbourhood first policy’.
President Ghani, in his remarks said the greatest vulnerability of Afghanistan was the open border with Iran. He proposed modelling diffusion patterns, creation of common framework for telemedicine and greater cooperation amongst the neighbouring countries.
Solih thanked the Indian government for the medical assistance to deal with COVID-19 cases and for evacuating nine Maldivians from Wuhan. He highlighted the negative impact of COVID-19 on tourism in the country and its impact on the nation’s economy.
He proposed closer cooperation between the health emergency agencies of the countries, formulation of economic relief package and long term recovery plan for the region.
Rajapaksa recommended that SAARC leaders work together to help economy tide over the difficult period. He also recommended establishment of a SAARC Ministerial level group to share best practises and coordinate regional matters on combating COVID-19.
Sheikh Hasina thanked Modi for bringing 23 Bangladeshi students back from Wuhan along with Indian students during the quarantine period. She proposed continuance of the dialogue at technical level through video conference between Health Ministers and Secretaries of the region.
Oli apprised the SAARC leaders of the steps taken by Nepal to combat COVID-19. He said that the collective wisdom and efforts of all the SAARC nations could help in devising a robust and effective strategy to deal with the pandemic.
Tshering said the pandemic does not follow geographical boundaries, hence it was all the more important for the nations to work together. It will affect the smaller and vulnerable economies disproportionately, he added.
Mirza proposed that SAARC Secretariat be mandated to establish a working group of national authorities for health Information, data exchange and coordination in real time. He proposed hosting SAARC Health Ministers’ conference and development of regional mechanisms to share disease surveillance data in real-time.
In his concluding remarks, Modi noted that some partners have made specific requests, including about medicine and equipment. ”My team has taken careful note of these. Let me assure you, that we will do our best for our neighbours. Let us ask our officials to maintain close contact and develop a common strategy, in the spirit of partnership and working together.
“Let us identify nodal experts from each of our countries and they can have a similar video-conference one week from now, to follow up on our discussions today,” he added.