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SAARC vows to fight coronavirus

NEW DELHI: Reciprocating Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call, leaders of SAARC nations vowed to collectively curb the spread of the deadly coronavirus, which has already killed over 6,000 people across the globe. Addressing SAARC heads of state via video conference, Modi announced the setting up of a COVID-19 emergency fund and pledged to put $10 million in its pool.

“The fund will be based on voluntary contributions and foreign secretaries through the embassy will decide on its utilisation. It will be accessible to all the member states of SAARC,” he said. However, sources said other member states have also been asked to contribute according to their ‘capacity’.

The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) has India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Bhutan as its members. Apart from the fund, the prime minister also announced that rapid response teams, comprising doctors, paramedics and experts, would be on standby and would be dispatched to any member state if necessary.

“We can also start an online training capsule for medics and other authorities to apprise them of the coronavirus,”  he suggested.

Modi also proposed the creating of a common research platform to control epidemics and said that the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) would help in coordinating it.

“All resources of the SAARC disaster management centre in Gandhinagar would be at the disposal of member states,” he said and added that the software used by the Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme would be shared with member states for effective cooperation and information sharing.

The prime minister also proposed that experts from member states brainstorm on the medical and economic aspects of the pandemic.

“We must identify nodal officers in each member state and they would meet next week to take this discussion forward,” he said and added that India could help set up a website on COVID-19 in all SAARC languages. Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina called for SAARC to collectively use their resources to tackle the pandemic and urged leaders to have similar conferences. She also proposed the setting up of an institution to fight public health emergencies. “Bangladesh would be happy to host the institution,” she said.