March 16: South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) member states have agreed to stand united against the common threat of COVID-19 coronavirus, that is fast spreading across the globe.
All eight member states of SAARC have agreed to set up a regional emergency fund to combat the deadly disease that has also surfaced in South Asia, with India reporting more than 100 cases and two deaths as of mid-March.
The fund was set up at the initiative of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who committed US$ 10 million in a video conference of the SAARC nations on Sunday. Modi has urged other member states to voluntarily contribute to the fund for a common cause.
Head of states or government of the SAARC member states including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka and a government representative from Pakistan had participated in the video conference held at the behest of Modi.
The SAARC meeting has been stalled due to the rivalry between India and Pakistan since 2014. India has been boycotting the regional meeting ever since it was last held in Kathmandu in 2014 accusing Pakistan of supporting terrorism. Pakistan denies the allegation.
This is the first time in six years that all the member states of SAARC participated in the regional meeting.
It was India who proposed setting the regional fund to combat the disease together. Indian Prime Minister Modi said in the video conference that cooperation between the SAARC nations can curb the spread of this deadly disease.
He informed that India has been setting up a Rapid Response Team of specialist doctors and expressed willingness to extend support to other member states.
“Any of us can use the fund to meet the cost of immediate actions,” said Modi.
Almost all the member states welcomed India’s proposal and expressed their solidarity to fight the disease together.
Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, who is the current chair of SAARC, backed Modi’s proposal and informed the participants about the measures adopted by Nepal to prevent the outbreak of coronavirus. He said that Nepal at present does not have a single case of coronavirus reported.
PM Oli shared that Nepal has increased the capacity of the hospitals while making preparations for isolation wards to avert the possible outbreak of COVID-19. He further said that Nepal stopped issuing on-arrival visas and also postponed international seminars and programmes.
Modi reportedly said there were fewer than 150 cases in countries comprising the SAARC nations but the situation ahead was uncertain.