‘Come together’: PM Narendra Modi tells SAARC countries; India offers USD 10mn for emergency coronavirus fund

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In a meeting with the leaders and representatives of SAARC countries, Prime Minister Narendra Modi proposed to create a ‘COVID-19 Emergency Fund’ that would be funded by voluntary contributions from the SAARC member nations, and offered $10 million as an initial offering from India’s side to this fund. Through video conference, PM Modi was addressing the meeting that was called to chalk out a strategy to fight the coronavirus outbreak that has affected hundreds in South-East Asia and led to two deaths in India.

In his opening address to a panel that included Nepalese Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Bhutanese premier Lotay Tshering, Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Maldivian President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, and Special Assistant to Pakistani Prime Minister on Health Zafar Mirza, PM Modi said the region has reported less than 150 coronavirus cases, but there is a need to remain vigilant.

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To the SAARC leaders, PM Modi said that ‘prepare, but don’t panic’ has been India’s guiding mantra in dealing with the coronavirus outbreak. He informed the august gathering that India had begun screening people entering its borders from mid-January itself, and gradually, restrictions were put on travel.

During the video conference held to discuss the COVID-19 outbreak, Prime Minister Modi also avered that the step-by-step approach taken by India helped avoid panic, and special efforts were made by the government to reach out to vulnerable groups.

India also responded to call of its people abroad, said PM Modi, adding that nearly 1,400 Indians from different countries were evacuated. PM Modi also mentioned to the representatives of the neighbouring nations that India helped some citizens of neighbouring countries by evacuating them from coronavirus-hit nations.

PM Modi said that it was clear that the best way that the 7 neighbouring nations could tackle coronavirus was by coming together and not by growing apart. The key, he said, was collaboration, and not confusion, and preparation, not panic.

PM Modi told the gathering that an Integrated Disease Surveillance Portal had been set up to effectively track the people who are possible virus carriers and the people they come in contact with. To tackle coronavirus effectively, PM Modi also offered to share Disease Surveillance software and the training mechanism with its SAARC partners.

The Prime Minister proposed to create a ‘COVID-19 Emergency Fund’ that would be funded by voluntary contributions from the SAARC member nations, and offered $10 million as an initial offering from India’s side to this fund.

For the future, Prime Minister Narendra Modi proposed setting up of a common Research Research Platform for coordinated research on tackling epidemics in the South Asian region, and added that the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) can assist and coordinate this exercise.

In a major announcement, PM Modi said that in India – a Rapid Response Team of doctors and specialists, along with testing kits and equipment was being assembled. He offered the assistance of this team of highly-specialised doctors and experts to the SAARC nations.

Seven South Asian countries - namely India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Afghanistan, Nepal, the Maldives, Sri Lanka and Pakistan - form the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), which is the regional intergovernmental organization and geopolitical union of states in South Asian region.