Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the leaders and representatives from SAARC nations on Sunday participated in a video conference meet to chalk out strategy to fight the coronavirus pandemic which has killed 5,962 people across the world.
Apart from Modi, Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Maldivian President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, Nepalese Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli, Bhutanese premier Lotay Tshering, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Special Assistant to Pakistani Prime Minister on Health Zafar Mirza participated in the video conference.
In his opening address, Prime Minister Modi said the South Asian region has reported less than 150 coronavirus cases, but "we need to remain vigilant". Modi added that “Prepare, but don’t panic” has been India's guiding mantra while facing this challenge.
Modi said that India started screening of people entering India from mid-January itself and gradually increased the restrictions on travel. The added that this step-by-step approach helped avoid panic. India made special efforts to reach out to vulnerable groups and also responded to the call of its people abroad and evacuated nearly 1,400 Indians from different countries, he said.
Maldives President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih thanked PM Modi for taking this timely call for regional initiative to combat the increasing threat of coronavirus. He added that Maldives was fortunate to have received general assistance from India. Earlier in February, India had rescued 7 Maldivians in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani said that a common framework for telemedicine to combat coronavirus should be created. He also added that the closing of borders will result in a significant problem of availability of food, medicines and basic goods.
He further said that India can coordinate between the SAARC nations and China as India is a part of SAARC as well as Shanghai Cooperation.
Sri Lanka President Gotabaya Rajapaksa told the SAARC leaders that the economy of the Island nation has taken a serious blow due to coronavirus. "Our economy has taken serious blow, particularly tourism sector which was just recovering after last years' terrorist attack. I strongly recommend SAARC leaders to formulate mechanism to assist our economies to tide over difficult period," he said.
Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina, firstly, thanked PM Modi for bringing and hosting 23 of their students from Wuhan along with Indian students. She further suggested that the health ministers and health experts from these nations should hold similar video conferences to discuss specific areas of cooperation.
"Our collective wisdom and efforts will help us devise a sound and robust strategy for the SAARC region as we fight COVID-19", said Nepal PM KP Sharma Oli.
Bhutan PM Lotay Tshering thanked PM Modi for his leadership to bring all of them together. "When the world is fighting one common disease, it is very imp to leave behind our differences," he added.
Zafar Mirza, State Minister of Health of Pakistan said that the country has closed all educational institutions for 3 weeks, closed the entire western border for 2 weeks, restricted international flights to 3 airports only and banned all large public gatherings. "All our countries have confirmed cases. There is no room for any complacency. While hoping for the best we have to be prepared for the worst," he added.
(With Agency Inputs)