Modi bats for joint SAARC strategy to fight coronavirus, gets support from all member states

PTI, Mar 14, 2020, 9:23 AM IST

New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday proposed formulation of a joint strategy by SAARC nations to fight the coronavirus, a suggestion backed by all member states.

Calling on SAARC members to set an example for the world, Modi reached out to the eight-member regional grouping and pitched for a video conference among the leaders to chalk out a strong strategy to fight coronavirus, which has killed nearly 5,000 people globally.

His appeal got a prompt response from Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Maldivian President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, Nepal Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli, Bhutanese premier Lotay Tshering, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and the Afghan government, all of whom welcomed the proposal.

Pakistan’s response to the proposal came late in the night with the country’s Foreign Office Spokesperson Aisha Farooqui saying that the threat of COVID-19 requires coordinated efforts at the global and regional levels.

“We have communicated that SAPM (Special Assistant to Pakistani Prime Minister) on Health (Zafar Mirza) will be available to participate in the video conference of SAARC member countries on the issue,” she said.

In a series of tweets, Modi said,”our planet is battling the COVID-19 Novel Coronavirus. At various levels, governments and people are trying their best to combat it. South Asia, which is home to a significant number of the global population should leave no stone unturned to ensure our people are healthy.”

He further said, “I would like to propose that the leadership of SAARC nations chalk out a strong strategy to fight Coronavirus. We could discuss, via video conferencing, ways to keep our citizens healthy.Together, we can set an example to the world, and contribute to a healthier planet.”

Welcoming the proposal, Rajapaksa said Sri Lanka was ready to join the discussion, share its learning and best practices as well as to learn from other SAARC members.

“Thank you for the great initiative Narendra Modi — Lanka is ready to join the discussion and share our learnings and best practices and to learn from other SAARC members. Let’s unite in solidarity during these trying times and keep our citizens safe,” Rajapaksa said in a tweet.

Nepalese Prime Minister Oli also tweeted “I welcome the idea advanced by Prime Minister Modiji for chalking out a strong strategy by the leadership of the SAARC nations to fight coronavirus. My government is ready to work closely with SAARC member states to protect our citizens from this deadly disease,” Oli tweeted.

“Thank you PM Narendra Modi for taking the initiative on this important endeavour. COVID-19 requires collective effort to defeat it. The Maldives welcomes this proposal and would fully support such a regional effort,” Maldivian PM Solih said.

The Bhutanese prime minister said, “This is what we call leadership. As members of this region, we must come together in such times.”

“Smaller economies are hit harder, so we must coordinate. With your leadership, I have no doubt we will see immediate and impactful outcome. Looking forward to the video conference,” he said.

Bangladesh’s minister of state for foreign affairs Shahriar Alam said Prime Minister Hasina welcomes the proposal and looks forward to a constructive dialogue with Modi, Solih, Oli, Tsering, Rajapaksa and Heads of state and government who already consented to discuss the way forward at this testing time for the region and the world.

Spokesperson for the President of Afghanistan Sediq Sediqqi said the Afghan government strongly welcomes the proposal of Modi and the readiness of the other SAARC members to work together devising a unified strategy to fight the coronavirus in the region.

Afghanistan Embassy’s Charg d’Affaires here Tahir Qadiry said, “In response to the timely call of Prime Minister Modi to create a robust strategy for SAARC aiming at tackling COVID2019, I would like to acknowledge his call. United we stand, divided we fall!”

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Wednesday that the coronavirus outbreak could be characterised as pandemic. The number of infection cases globally stood at 1,33,970, with over 5,000 deaths across 120 countries and territories.

The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is a regional intergovernmental organization that comprises Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

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