Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi of India interacted with the leaders of the SAARC countries through video conference to chart out a common strategy in order to combat COVID-19 in the region.
Shared History – Collective Future:
Prime Minister thanked the leaders for joining the conference at such short notice. Stressing on the ancient people to people ties and interconnectedness of societies of the SAARC countries, he said it is imperative for the nations to prepare to face the challenge together.
The Way Forward:
In the spirit of collaboration, Prime Minister Modi proposed creation of a COVID-19 Emergency Fund based on voluntary contributions from all the countries, with India making an initial offer of US $10 million for the fund. The fund can be used by any of the partner countries to meet the cost of immediate actions. He informed that India is assembling a Rapid Response Team of doctors and specialists, along with testing kits and other equipment, which will be on stand-by, to be placed at the disposal of the countries, if required.
Prime Minister also offered arranging for online training capsules for the emergency response teams of the neighboring countries and sharing of software behind India’s Integrated Disease Surveillance Portal to help trace possible virus carriers and the people they contacted. He suggested that existing mechanisms like SAARC Disaster Management Centre can be used to pool in best practices.
He also suggested creation of a common Research Platform to coordinate research on controlling epidemic diseases within the South Asian region. He suggested further brainstorming by experts on the long-term economic consequences of COVID-19, and how best to insulate internal trade and local value chains from its impact.
Prime Minister also proposed evolving common SAARC Pandemic Protocols which can be applied on the borders as well as within the countries in such situations to prevent such infections from spreading across the region, and to allow free internal movements.
The leaders thanked the Prime Minister for the proposed initiatives. Prime Minister reiterated the resolve to battle together and said that neighborhood collaboration by SAARC countries should serve as a model for the world.
Prime Minister said the guiding mantra for India has been “prepare, but don’t panic”. He laid down the proactive steps taken, including a graded response mechanism, screening those entering the country, public awareness campaigns on TV, print and social media, special efforts to reach out to the vulnerable groups, ramping up of diagnostic facilities and developing protocols for each stage of managing the pandemic.
He said that India has not only successfully evacuated almost 1400 Indians from different countries but also evacuated some of the citizens of the neighboring countries in accordance with the ‘neighborhood first policy’.