Live translation of video conference by Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi with leaders of SAARC countries (Afghanistan, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Pakistan, Maldives) to combat COVID-19 was organized on 15th March, 2020.
At SAARC Leader’s Summit today, Prime Minister Narendra Modi proposed creating a COVID-19 Emergency Fund; COVID-19 Rapid Response Team; Disease Surveillance Platform; sharing of best practices and assessing of health & economic impact.
WHO declared Covid-19 a pandemic on March 11, 2020. Over 140,000 persons have been infected worldwide. SAARC area has around 150 cases as on date, with two fatalities. This pandemic has strained capacity of the world to assist others. Therefore regional cooperation is imperative. It is in this context India is reaching out to its neighbours to prioritize humanitarian needs; reaffirm the imperative of collective action against a pandemic that threatens all of us; underscore the imperative of cooperative efforts by all countries in the region, to tackle such a complex transnational challenge.
Video Conference details:
Presence of all eight SAARC member States, the new (Sri Lankan) SAARC Secretary General; and the SAARC Disaster Management Centre.
Main points of Discussion:
Leaders listed actions taken in each country, shared thoughts on the way forward, appreciated India for this timely initiative, and for assistance delivered by India bilaterally.
1. Action India has taken:
● Among earliest responding nations. Set up Joint Monitoring Mechanism on 8 Jan 2020, one day after China identified novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) on January 7.
● Increased monitoring measures in a graduated and transparent manner, while ensuring high degree of public awareness. ● Graded response set up from January 17, including thermal screening at key gateway airports.
● Simultaneously increased restrictions on travel, but in a step-by-step manner, so as not to create panic.
● Increased public awareness campaigns on TV, print and social media.
● Ramped up systemic capacity by expanding training for medical staff in all States and Union Territories.
● Increased diagnostic capabilities: increased from only one major molecular diagnostic facility for pan-India testing, to over 60 labs currently, within less than two months.
● Developed protocols for each stage of managing this pandemic, including screening at entry points; contact tracing of suspected cases; quarantine and management of isolation facilities; and for discharge of cleared cases.
● Evacuating over 1450 Indians from major outbreak areas, as well as citizens from several of our neighbours.
2. What India Offered SAARC partners:
● Creation of a COVID-19 Emergency Fund, based on voluntary contributions. India pledged US$10 million as a start to help any of our nations meet the cost of emergent actions to combat this pandemic.
● Indian Rapid Response Teams, of doctors, specialists and testing equipment, who are already on standby.
● Online training capsules for emergency response staff, for all SAARC countries, using the model India used to raise capacity of emergency staff across India.
● A review video conference of doctors and medical professionals, in one week to ten days, to consider specific measures and best practices in SAARC States.
● A review video conference of trade officials to consider the impact of travel restrictions on intra-regional trade within SAARC, recognizing the high level of inter-dependence of several of our economies.
● Sharing software in our own Integrated Health Information Platform for Disease Surveillance.
● Use of the SAARC Disaster Management Centre, to identify and popularize best practices in fighting Covid-19.
● For the future: proposed creating a Research Platform for all SAARC States to share ideas and proposals for diagnostic and therapeutic interventions for diseases and epidemics. Indian Council of Medical Research will help coordinate this.
Assessing the initiative:
● Key initiative of PM Modi to encourage the region to rise beyond bilateral differences to combat a pandemic;
● Our willingness to use any and all mechanisms to promote mutually beneficial cooperation.
● India is offering partnership to the region as a means of securing collective good.
● We are willing to reflect and protect the interests of our partners in South Asia in multilateral fora on such transboundary issues, as reflected in today's discussions.
● We are ready to help our neighbours within limits of our capacity, in recognition of the fact that we cannot combat this pandemic challenge if we do not help arrest it in our neighbourhood.