SAARC neighbours spell out plan to fight coronavirus: Satellite classes to closed borders

Shubhajit Roy
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Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses SAARC leaders on coronavirus on Sunday. (Source: ANI)

AS PRIME Minister Narendra Modi organised a video conference of SAARC leaders to formulate a strategy to combat coronavirus in the South Asian region, here’s what the other leaders had to say. They reflected their own challenges, concerns and suggestions.

Afghanistan
Confirmed cases*: 11

“We would always be ready and willing to collaborate, and to welcome coordination, learn from the best practice.” President Ashraf Ghani

Greatest vulnerability is that Afghanistan has open borders with Iran, which is the worst-affected in the region. Diffusion modelling needed, different from China or the US, and SAARC should do it. Create a framework for telemedicine, because poor women are vulnerable. As a land-locked country, closing of borders will hinder availability of medicines. Since schools are closed, prayers cancelled, how to keep women, youth and children occupied. So, SAARC satellite can be used for distance tele-education, since social distancing is being advocated. India, as a member of both SAARC and Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, should coordinate to bring lessons learnt from China’s experience. Impact on social fabric and economic transactions. How to take care of the most poor and most vulnerable.

Maldives
Confirmed cases: 10

“No country on its own can succeed in combating the virus. It requires a shared response.” President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih

Unique geography presents a challenge. Dispersed islands allows it to isolate cases, but providing medical care is tough. India has sent medical relief. Country is vulnerable to external shocks. Tourist arrivals declined —in February, it dipped by 14.3%, in March (so far) dipped by 22.8%, and is likely to dip by 35% this year. Tourism contributes quarter of GDP, and two-third of forex. Every job is dependent on tourism. China and Italy are no. 1 and 3 respectively, in terms of source of foreign tourists. Serious shortfall of forex. Detrimental impact on economy. Need closer cooperation on health emergency agencies. Economic relief package needed.

PM Narendra Modi at the SAARC video-conference on Sunday. (File)

Sri Lanka
Confirmed cases: 10

“Our biggest challenge is to stop or minimise the virus entering into Sri Lanka and control the spreading of the virus.” President Gotabaya Rajapaksa

Banned tourists from South Korea and Iran. Large number of Sri Lankans working specially in Germany, Italy and South Korea, so they are being put in quarantine. Have restricted social gatherings, closed educational institutions. National Task Force established, 24X7 hotline. Thirty-four Sri Lankan students and their families were evacuated from Wuhan. Parliament has been dissolved and the general elections will be held on March 25. No large meetings, but polls to be held as planned. Almost all major sporting events, international conferences, meetings, large gatherings postponed or canceled. Economy has suffered a severe blow, since tourists are from Europe. Exports affected adversely. SAARC should develop a mechanism to help economies to tide over this very difficult period. SAARC ministerial level be established to discuss, share risks and best practices.

Read | PM Modi asks SAARC nations to avoid ‘knee-jerk reactions’, proposes coronavirus fund

Bangladesh
Confirmed cases: 3

“We need to force, collaboration, through our collective capacity expertise and resources. We are ready to share our capacity and expertise.” Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina

Need to devise a strong SAARC-wide strategy to fight public health challenge. Strong surveillance and rigorous check up at all international airports. Have set up a national committee to provide guidance. Massive awareness campaigns by government and party workers. SAARC countries need to collaborate closely to fight this enemy. Important to establish an institution to prevent and fight against any public health threats in South Asian region in future.

Nepal
Confirmed case: 1

“Our collective wisdom and approach will help us devise sound and robust strategy for the SAARC region to fight Covid-19.” Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli

Multi-agency coordination committees have been set up at the centre, provinces, and local levels. Visa-on-arrival facility for all foreigners and non-resident Nepalese with foreign passports suspended. Movement of third country nationals via land routes suspended. Suspended issuance of work permit for Nepalese nationals for overseas employment. International passengers are required to go through the screening process. Provision for self quarantine. Enhancing capacity of hospitals. All permits for mountaineering expedition for spring 2020 have been suspended and all major international conferences have been postponed.

Bhutan
Confirmed case: 1

“When the whole world is fighting one common disease that we cannot see with our naked eyes, I think it is very important that all of us come together and leave behind our differences.” Prime Minister Lotay Tshering

Affects the elderly people, and it affects more people with co-morbid conditions. The aftermath of this disease will affect the smaller and vulnerable economics more badly than the better ones. Concerned about the economic outcomes of this disease. Will share limited resources, have frequent such meetings. Propose that we must have a similar cooperation in economic sphere, because all the smaller economies are disproportionately hit.

Pakistan
Confirmed cases: 31

“No nation, and no region on earth can afford to be unresponsive, least of all SAARC, which is home to one fifth of the humanity.” Pakistan PM’s special assistant on health Zafar Mirza

No room for complacency. Need for prevention and caution. We have strongly advised against panic. Taking steps to restrict movement to and from affected countries, institute health screening buyers at entry points by member states, and establish quarantined and isolation facilities. PM Imran Khan is personally overseeing these efforts. Have closed all educational institutions, closed the western border for two weeks, restricted international flights to three airports only, and will ban all large public gatherings. SAARC Secretariat is best placed to coordinate. Establish a working group of respective national authorities for health information and data exchange, as well as coordination for responses in real time. Proposal of hosting health ministers’ conference at an appropriate time.  —(*Source: Johns Hopkins CSSE)