Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday proposed to set up a COVID-19 emergency fund for South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation nations to help tackle the spread of the virus, and said India can initially offer $10 million, reported The Hindu. Modi had on Friday called on the other seven SAARC nations – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka – to chalk out a strategy to fight the pandemic.
“As we all know, COVID-19 has recently been classified by the World Health Organisation as a pandemic. So far, our region has listed fewer than 150 cases. But we need to remain vigilant,” Modi said in his opening address. “I propose that we create a COVID-19 emergency fund. India can start by contributing $10 million.”
The Indian prime minister also listed out the country’s experience with the virus, and highlighted various measures taken to prevent its outbreak. “We evacuated nearly 1,400 citizens, including some from our neighbouring countries,” Modi said. “We recognize other countries are also concerned about safety of citizens in India. So we briefed foreign diplomats.”
Modi said that “prepare but do not panic” was the motto as India attempted to tackle the virus. He also noted that the SAARC region was home to one-fifth of the global population and therefore had to be prepared to deal with the effects of the coronavirus.
Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Maldives’ President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, Nepal’s Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, Bhutan’s premier Lotay Tshering, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, and Special Assistant to Pakistani Prime Minister on Health Zafar Mirza participated in the video conference.
Mirza called for the restrictions in Jammu and Kashmir to be relaxed in order to deal with the outbreak of the virus. “We share common regional concerns on COVID-19,” he added. “While hoping for [the] best, we have to prepare for worst.”
The Maldivian president supported the coordinated approach to deal with the virus while Rajapaksa said SAARC nations should come up with a mechanism to help the economic impact of the virus. Hasina lauded Modi’s suggestions to tackle the virus, and called for more such conferences.
“Our collective efforts will help us devise a sound and robust strategy for SAARC region to fight coronavirus,” said Oli. Bhutanese Prime Minister Tshering said it was important for all nations of the region to work together to tackle coronavirus.