KATHMANDU: The much-talked-about video conference of SAARC leaders on chalking out a joint strategy to combat the fast-spreading coronavirus pandemic in the region has begun.
Speaking at the video conference, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi wished Nepal’s Prime Minister K P Oli, who has just been discharged from the hospital after his kidney transplant, a speedy recovery and thanked him for joining the conference.
PM Modi also congratulated newly-appointed SAARC Secretary-General Esala Ruwan Weerakoon for assuming the post.
Saying that COVID 19 has been classified by WHO as a pandemic, Modi said even though SAARC has so far listed fewer than 150 cases, “we need to remain vigilant”.
He said SAARC is home to nearly one-fifth of all humanity. “It is densely populated as developing countries, all of us has significant challenges in terms of access to health care facilities. People-to-people ties are ancient and are deeply interconnected. Therefore, we must all prepare together and act together and we must all succeed together.”
“As we prepare to face this challenge, let me share India’s experience of combating the threat of virus so far. India is careful to not underestimate the problem but also to avoid kneejerk reactions.
“Prepare, but don’t panic, has been our guiding mantra,” Modi said.
Modi said they have started border screening entry into India from mid-January itself.
“We have restricted travel. We have also increased public awareness campaigns on television, print and social media. We have worked to ramp up our capacity in our system to training our medical staff across the cautery. We have also increased diagnosis capacity.”
Entry point screenings, quarantine and management of isolation facilities have been intensified, he said, adding that India has so far evacuated nearly 1,400 Indians from different countries.
Meanwhile, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said India should coordinate between SAARC and Shanghai Cooperation Organization to learn from China’s experience in fighting against, COVID-19.
Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said the first case reported in Sri Lanka was a Chinese national, who has already left the country.
Currently, Sri Lanka has 11 cases being treated in hospitals. There has been no death in Sri Lanka so far.
We have also established a national task force comprising of all major stakeholders to make crucial decisions on the infection. The government has taken additional steps to effectively deal with the pandemic.
Travel advisories have been issued to ensure that travelers, mainly from European countries, do not enter the country, he said. “Our economy has taken a severe blow, particularly in tourism due to the coronavirus pandemic,” he stated suggesting the formation of a SAARC ministerial-level taskforce to deal with the coronavirus.
President of the Maldives, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih said precautionary measures have been enhanced so as not to overburden the resources in the country.
Saying that shortage of health care providers has been a great challenge, he thanked India for providing support.
He said the Maldives has been currently facing a difficult time due to the decline of the tourism business.
Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina Wazed said they have undertaken a massive awareness campaign. “School children are being trained to follow necessary personal hygiene,” she said suggesting that the SAARC nations need to collaborate to jointly fight this pandemic.
Prime Minister of Bhutan, Dr Lotay Tshering stressed on togetherness among SAARC member-states all the time.
“Sharing is very significant, communications, and sharing of information and experience are also very important,” he said.
Saying that Covid-19 does not follow geographical boundaries, PM Tshering said, “We all are on the same page. We have to work together, we all are equally concerned. We need similar cooperation in economic activities to overcome the COVID-19 impact in the economy.”