Narendra Modi proposes SAARC fund to tackle Coronavirus

Updated: Mar 16, 2020, 08:09 IST | Agencies | New Delhi

He suggests setting it up with India committing $10 mn initially for it, and asserts the best way to deal with the pandemic is by coming together

PM Narendra Modi speaks during the video conference. Pic/PTI
PM Narendra Modi speaks during the video conference. Pic/PTI

SAARC nations on Sunday vowed to jointly combat Coronavirus as Prime Minister Narendra Modi proposed an emergency fund with an initial offer of $10 million from India and asserted that the best way to deal with the pandemic was by coming together, and not growing apart.

The underlying message of the video conference was unitedly taking on the virus, but Pakistan used the occasion to raise the Kashmir issue, calling for immediate lifting of the "lockdown" there to allow disease containment measures. 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. Modi said India's guiding mantra to deal with the virus was "prepare, but don't panic". "We were careful to not underestimate the problem, but also to avoid knee-jerk reactions," he said. In a significant message, Modi asserted that it was important for the SAARC member countries to work together and said the region can best respond to the Coronavirus pandemic by "coming together, not growing apart". Modi said it was important to focus on collaboration, not confusion, and preparation, not panic. Prime Minister Modi made a series of suggestions which were hailed by the SAARC leaders and representatives.

"I propose we create a COVID-19 Emergency Fund. This could be based on voluntary contributions from all of us. India can start with an initial offer of 10 million dollars for this fund. Any of us can use the fund to meet the cost of immediate actions," Modi said. "We are assembling a Rapid Response Team of doctors and specialists in India, along with testing kits and other equipment. They will be on stand-by, to be placed at your disposal, if required," he told the SAARC leaders. India had set up an Integrated Disease Surveillance Portal to better trace possible virus carriers and the people they contacted and it could share this disease surveillance software with SAARC partners, Modi said. "Looking ahead, we could create a common research platform, to coordinate research on controlling epidemic diseases within our South Asian region. The Indian Council of Medical Research can offer help coordinating such an exercise," he said.

Over 450 Indians evacuated Over 450 Indians, including students, stranded in Coronavirus-hit Iran and Italy were brought back by two flights on Sunday and quarantined at separate facilities, according to officials. Briton stopped from flying A UK national tested positive for Coronavirus in Kerala on Sunday and was stopped along with 18 others of his tourist group at the Kochi airport from flying to Dubai after he allegedly jumped quarantine in the hill resort town of Munnar, officials said. The foreigner and his wife have been admitted to an isolation facility while the 17 were sent to a hotel for quarantine after being offloaded, Kerala Agriculture Minister V S Sunil Kumar told reporters at the airport. Another passenger, a Keralite also booked on the Emirates flight scheduled for departure at 9.20 am, voluntarily opted not to travel and has been advised home quarantine, officials said. 'Postpone Shirdi visit' Shri Saibaba Sansthan Trust on Sunday appealed to devotees to postpone their visit to Shirdi for a few days in view of Coronavirus outbreak in the country. Extending border restrictions in view of the Coronavirus outbreak, the government has suspended travel and registration of pilgrims to Kartarpur Sahib Gurudwara through the corridor from Sunday midnight, besides movement of all types of passengers to Pakistan through international border points.

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