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Modi proposes emergency fund to fight coronavirus outbreak in South Asia

  • Published at 06:08 pm March 15th, 2020
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Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi initiates the videoconference on Sunday, March 15, 2020 Screenshot taken from YouTube video

The Indian premier calls for unity in Saarc, focuses on preparation, not panic

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday proposed creating a Covid-19 emergency fund for the member states of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc), saying they can respond best only by coming together, not growing apart.

“It's clear that we have to work together. We can respond best by coming together not growing apart; collaboration not confusion; preparation not panic,” he said, reports UNB.

Modi said the emergency fund could be based on voluntary contributions from all of them, and India can start with an initial offer of $10 million for it.

He shared his thoughts on the coronavirus situation in Saarc countries and beyond in a videoconference with the other Saarc leaders, including Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, held to chalk out a strong common strategy to fight the coronavirus outbreak in the South Asian region.

On Friday, Modi had made the proposal, in a tweet, to hold the conference between the Saarc leaders in order to find a strong strategy.

The videoconference, which started at 5:30pm Bangladesh time, was broadcast live by Bangladesh Television and on Facebook by the Indian High Commission in Dhaka.

Modi said they fully recognize that they were still in an unknown situation and facing a serious challenge. “We can’t predict with certainty how the situation will unfold despite our best efforts. You must also be facing similar concerns. This is why it would be most valuable for all of us to share our perspectives,” he added.

"So far, our region has listed fewer than 150 cases. But we need to remain vigilant," he said, briefly sharing India’s experience of combating the spread of this virus so far as they prepare to face this challenge.

“’Prepare, but don’t panic’ has been our guiding mantra," he said.

The Indian premier said they started screening entry into India from mid-January itself, while gradually increasing restrictions on travel.


The step-by-step approach has helped avoid panic, he said, adding: "We have made special efforts to reach out to vulnerable groups."

He said they have worked to quickly ramp up capacity in their system including through training their medical staff across the country.

"We also responded to the call of our people abroad. We evacuated nearly 1,400 Indians from different countries. We also similarly helped some of the citizens of our neighbourhood countries," Modi said.

The Covid-19 outbreak, which started in China’s Wuhan city in late December last year, has recently been classified by the World Health Organization as a pandemic.

‘Covid-19 was not underestimated’

During the videoconference, Modi thanked all for joining this special interaction at a short notice. "I specially thank our friend Prime Minister Oli who has joined us almost immediately after his recent surgery," he said.

The Saarc region is a home to nearly one-fifth of all humanity and it is densely populated.

Modi said they were careful to not underestimate the problem, but also to avoid knee-jerk reactions. "We have tried to take proactive steps, including a graded response mechanism.”


Also Read - Hasina calls for amassing Saarc resources against coronavirus


India has increased their public awareness campaigns on TV, print and social media.

Modi said they have also increased diagnostic capabilities and within two months, they moved from one major facility for pan-India testing to more than 60 such labs.

"And, we have developed protocols for each stage of managing this pandemic: for screening at entry points; contact tracing of suspected cases; quarantine and management of isolation facilities; and for discharge of cleared cases," he said.

The Indian prime minister said they have now built up a protocol for such evacuations, including carrying out testing by their mobile teams deployed abroad. "We recognized that other countries would be also concerned about their citizens in India. So, we briefed foreign ambassadors about the steps we were taking."

Looking ahead, he said, they could create a common research platform, to coordinate research on controlling epidemic diseases within South Asian region.

The Indian Council of Medical Research can offer help for coordinating such an exercise, he added.

Modi said 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."

All Saarc states pledge cooperation

Welcoming Modi’s proposal, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said she looked forward to a constructive dialogue with her Indian counterpart and the other Saarc leaders, who have already agreed to discuss way forward at this testing time for the region and the world.

Nepalese Prime Minister KP Sharma Ali underlined the importance of community awareness and effective mobilization to control the spread of virus.

He also welcomed Modi’s regional initiatives.

Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said many lessons were learnt from the sharing of experiences in the videoconference and thanked the Indian premier for offering assistance.

Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, president of the Maldives, also welcomed Modi‘s suggestion of setting up an emergency fund to fight the coronavirus outbreak.

Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani welcomed various new initiatives suggested by Modi and suggested all countries to keep a close focus on the next months on the evolving situation.

Dr Zafar Mirza, the de-facto heath minister of Pakistan, observed that his country shared the common regional concerns on the virus and said “while hoping for the best, we have to prepare for the worst.”

Bhutanese Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering welcomed setting up of the emergency fund and acknowledged the contribution of health care professionals to combat the virus.

Later, Modi said: "We have to fight this battle together, and we have to win it together. Our neighbourhood collaboration should be a model for the world."

He said 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."