Modi invokes SAARC solidarity, pitches for COVID-19 Emergency Fund

Rallying the South Asia region together to jointly combat the coronavirus pandemic, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has proposed COVID-19 Emergency Fund for the eight-nation SAARC and underlined the mantra of “prepare but do not panic” to battle the deadly disease.

“As we prepare to face this challenge, let me briefly share India’s experience of combating the spread of this virus so far. “Prepare, but don’t panic” has been our guiding mantra. We were careful to not underestimate the problem, but also to avoid knee-jerk reactions,” said Mr Modi while addressing the leaders of SAARC countries in a virtual conference among the leaders of South Asian countries.

“We have tried to take proactive steps, including a graded response mechanism. We started screening entry into India from mid-January itself, while also gradually increasing restrictions on travel. The step-by-step approach has helped avoid panic. We have increased our public awareness campaigns on TV, print and social media,” he said.

Looking ahead, PM Modi showed India’s leadership of the region in a crisis-situation with the proposal to set up 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 US dollars for this fund. Any of us can use the fund to meet the cost of immediate actions,” he said. The prime minister said the setting up of the fund can be coordinated by Foreign Secretaries, through the embassies of the countries in the region.

SAARC counter-COVID Action Plan

Mr Modi made the following suggestions at the SAARC video conference focused on combating COVID-19.

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.

We can also quickly arrange online training capsules for your emergency response teams. This will be based on the model we have used in our own country, to raise the capacity of all our emergency staff.

We had set up an Integrated Disease Surveillance Portal to better trace possible virus carriers and the people they contacted. We could share this Disease Surveillance software with SAARC partners, and training on using this.

Let us also use existing facilities, like the SAARC Disaster Management Centre, to pool in the best practices among all of us.

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.

We can also ask our experts to brainstorm on the longer-term economic consequences of COVID-19, and how we can insulate our internal trade and our local value chains from its impact.

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