Pak PM's aide to participate in SAARC video conference on coronavirus

Islamabad, Mar 15 (PTI) Pakistan Prime Minister's Special Assistant on Health Dr Zafar Mirza will participate in a video conference of SAARC member countries on Sunday proposed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to formulate a joint strategy to combat the fast-spreading coronavirus pandemic.

Prime Minister Modi reached out to the eight-member regional grouping on Friday and pitched for a video conference among the leaders of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) to chalk out a strong strategy to combat the virus outbreak. His suggestion was backed by all member states of SAARC.

'The threat of #COVID-19 requires coordinated efforts at global and regional level. We have communicated that SAPM on Health will be available to participate in the video conference of #SAARC member countries on the issue,' Pakistan Foreign Office Spokesperson Aisha Farooqui tweeted on Saturday.

Dr Mirza is leading Pakistan's campaign against the virus.

The deadly virus that first originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December last year has claimed over 5,700 lives and infected more than 150,000 people across 135 countries and territories.

China remains the hardest-hit with more than 80,000 infections and 3,199 deaths.

No death has been reported in Pakistan while two persons have died in India due to the disease. So far, 34 cases of coronavirus have been reported in Pakistan and there are 107 confirmed cases in India.

Afghanistan has reported 11 confirmed cases while Sri Lanka' tally has risen to 10. Other members - Maldives, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan - have reported cases in single digit. All countries have individually taken measures to prevent spread of virus within their borders.

Modi's pitch for a joint SAARC strategy to combat coronavirus assumes significance as in the last three years, India has been distancing itself from the SAARC, citing the security challenge facing the region from terror networks based in Pakistan, which is also a member of the grouping.

In December last year, the prime minister had said India's efforts for a greater collaboration among the SAARC countries were repeatedly challenged with threats and acts of terrorism, in an oblique reference to Pakistan.

The last SAARC Summit in 2014 was held in Nepal's Kathmandu, which was attended by Modi.

The 2016 SAARC Summit was to be held in Islamabad. But after a terror attack on an Indian Army camp in Jammu and Kashmir's Uri on September 18 that year, India expressed its inability to participate in the summit due to the 'prevailing circumstances'.

The summit was called off after Bangladesh, Bhutan and Afghanistan also declined to take part in it. PTI ZH ZH