Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the leaders of eight South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) nations spoke to each other through video conference on Match 15, 2020, for a joint strategy to fight the coronavirus outbreak. The deadly respiratory illness has claimed over 5,845 lives worldwide and infected over 1,52,000 across the globe.
Apart from PM 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 Imran Khan on Health Zafar Mirza participated in the SAARC video conference.
PM Modi, in his opening address, said, "As we all know, COVID-19 has recently been classified by the World Health Organisation as a pandemic. So far, our region has listed fewer than 150 cases. But we need to remain vigilant". Modi added, "I propose that we create a COVID-19 emergency fund. India can start by contributing $10 million."
He added, "Prepare, but don't panic' has been India's guiding mantra in dealing with coronavirus outbreak. We started screening people entering India from mid-January itself, while gradually increasing restrictions on travel."
The step-by-step approach helped avoid panic and India made special efforts to reach out to vulnerable groups, Modi said.
India also responded to the call of its citizens abroad and evacuated nearly 1,400 Indians from different countries, he said.
India helped some citizens of neighbouring countries by evacuating them from coronavirus-hit nations, said Modi.
Meanwhile, Modi's proposed formulation of a joint strategy was backed by all the member states. PM Modi said, "it is clear we have to work together; we can respond best to coronavirus by coming together, not growing apart".
Zafar Mirza, Pakistan PM's Special Assistant on Health, said, "No nation can afford to be unresponsive to situation in wake of coronavirus outbreak".
Bhutanese PM Lotay Tshering said, "Important for all of us to be on same page to combat coronavirus.
Nepal PM K P Sharma Oli said, "Our collective efforts will help us devise a sound and robust strategy for SAARC region to fight coronavirus"
Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina said, "Health ministers of SAARC nations can hold video conference to discuss specific issues related to COVID-19".
Lankan President Rajapaksa said, "I propose setting up of SAARC ministerial-level group to deal with issues related to coronavirus".
The SAARC conference came a day ahead of a similar conference requested by France for the G-7 countries -- Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States -- held on March 16, 2020.