PM Modi proposes emergency fund to combat COVID-19, Pak raises Kashmir at SAARC video conference – South Asia Time

PM Modi proposes emergency fund to combat COVID-19, Pak raises Kashmir at SAARC video conference

 March 15, 2020  

New Delhi,  ANI — Prime Minister Narendra Modi proposed the creation of a COVID-19 emergency fund based on voluntary contributions from all the countries, with India making an initial offer of USD 10 million for the fund during his interaction with the leaders of the SAARC countries through video conference on Sunday.

The Prime Minister held a video conference with the leaders of SAARC member countries to exchange their views in fighting the coronavirus pandemic. However, Pakistan raked up the Kashmir issue, saying that the “lockdown should be lifted” in the region amid the coronavirus outbreak.

“In the spirit of collaboration, Prime Minister Modi proposed the creation of a COVID-19Emergency Fund based on voluntary contributions from all the countries, with India making an initial offer of USD10 million for the fund. The fund can be used by any of the partner countries to meet the cost of immediate actions,” the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said in a statement.

“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,” the statement added.
According to the MEA, the Prime Minister also offered arranging for online training capsules for the emergency response teams of the neighbouring countries and sharing of the 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 as also the creation of a common research platform to coordinate research on controlling epidemic diseases within the South Asian region.
“The leaders thanked the Prime Minister for the proposed initiatives. The Prime Ministerreiterated the resolve to battle together and said that neighbourhood collaboration by SAARC countries should serve as a model for the world,” the statement said.
The Prime Minister said that the guiding mantra for India has been “prepare, but don’t panic”.
Modi said that India has not only “successfully evacuated almost 1,400 Indians from different countries but also evacuated some of the citizens of the neighbouring countries in accordance with the ‘neighbourhood first policy’.”

During the interaction, Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani said that the greatest vulnerability of Afghanistan is an open border with Iran. He proposed modelling diffusion patterns, creation of a common framework for telemedicine and greater cooperation amongst the neighbouring countries, the MEA said.
Maldives President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih thanked India for the medical assistance to deal with COVID-19 cases and for evacuating nine Maldivians from Wuhan.

“He (Solih) highlighted the negative impact of COVID-19 on tourism in the country and its impact on the nation’s economy. He proposed closer cooperation between the health emergency agencies of the countries, formulation of economic relief package and long term recovery plan for the region,” the statement said.

Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa recommended that SAARC leaders work together to help economy tide over the difficult period.
“He (Rajapaksa) also recommended the establishment of a SAARC ministerial-level group to share best practises and coordinate regional matters on combating COVID-19,” the statement said.
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina thanked Modi for bringing 23 Bangladeshi students back from Wuhan along with Indian students during the quarantine period.
Nepal Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli apprised the SAARC leaders of the steps taken by Nepal to combat COVID-19.

According to the MEA, the Nepal Prime Minister said that the collective wisdom and efforts of all the SAARC nations could help in devising a robust and effective strategy to deal with the pandemic.
Bhutan Prime Minister Lotay Tshering said that the pandemic does not follow geographical boundaries and hence, it is all the more important for the nations to work together.

Pakistan‘s state Minister of Health, Dr Zafar Mirza proposed that SAARC Secretariat be mandated to establish a working group of national authorities for health information, data exchange and coordination in real-time, the MEA statement said.

“He proposed hosting SAARC Health Ministers’ conference and development of regional mechanisms to share disease surveillance data in real-time,” it added.

However, Pakistan raised the Kashmir issue during the video conference saying that it is imperative that the lockdown in the region be lifted in view of the health emergency amid coronavirus outbreak.
“It is a matter of concern that COVID-19 has been reported from Jammu and Kashmir. In view of the health emergency, it is imperative that all lockdown in the territory must be lifted immediately,” Mirza said.

It was “churlish” of Pakistan to politicise a humanitarian issue by raking up the Kashmir matter at a video conference between SAARCleaders held with an aim to chalk out a joint strategy to fight the coronavirus pandemic, Indian government sources said.

Pakistan sent their Health Minister who was uncomfortable in speaking. He was given a slip. It is a churlish approach. This is a humanitarian issue and Pakistan tried to politicise the humanitarian issue,” the government sources added. (ANI)