Sri Lankan President says economy has taken severe blow amid coronavirus scare

New Delhi [India], Mar 15 (ANI): Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Sunday said that his country's economy has taken a severe blow due to coronavirus and recommended SAARC member countries to formulate a mechanism to avail assistance for struggling economies to tide over the crisis.

"Our economy has taken a severe blow due to coronavirus, particularly in the tourism sector. Most of our tourists are from Italy and the EU countries. Now there is a ban on their coming. Our tourism sector was just recovering after last years' April 21 terrorist attack," Rajapaksa said in the video conference with all SAARC leaders.

The Sri Lankan President said that the country's export has also been adversely affected.

"I strongly recommend SAARC leaders to formulate a mechanism to assist our economies to tide over this very difficult period. I also wish to recommend that a SAARC ministerial-level route be established to discuss and coordinate regional matters in combating coronavirus," Rajapaksa said.

"Our biggest challenge is to stop or minimise the virus entering into Sri Lanka and control its spread. For this purpose, we have banned tourists and others from entering Sri Lanka, especially from the EU countries and South Korea, etc," he added.

Rajapaksa also thanked Prime Minister Narendra Modi for initiating the video conference to share experiences, ideas, best practices and understand the challenges and discuss measures to combat the spread of coronavirus.

He said, while the first case reported in Sri Lanka was a Chinese woman tourist, the first Sri Lankan to be infected was a tour guide who had contracted the virus from an Italian tourist, who has already left the country. He said the country has also set up a national task force to take steps to prevent the spread of the disease.

Earlier, Prime Minister Modi said the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries should "prepare, act and succeed together" against COVID-19.

"As developing nations, all of us have significant challenges in terms of access to heal care facilities. Our people-to-people ties are ancient and our society deeply interconnected. We must all prepare, act and succeed together," Modi said.

He stressed the importance of vigilance since the region is densely populated.

"COVID-19 has recently been classified by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as a pandemic. So far, our SAARC region has listed fewer than 150 cases but we need to remain vigilant. SAARC region is home to nearly 1/5 of all humanity. It is densely populated," said Modi.

Prime Minister Modi briefed the SAARC member countries about India's experience of combating the spread of coronavirus so far.

"Prepare, but don't panic has been our guiding mantra. 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 made special efforts to reach out to vulnerable groups," he said.

The Prime Minister said that "we have worked to quickly ramp up capacity in our system including through training our medical staff across the country. We have also increased diagnostic capabilities. Within two months, we moved from one major facility for pan-India testing."

Modi said that the country has developed protocols for each stage of managing the pandemic.

"We also responded to the call of our people abroad. We evacuated nearly 1,400 Indians from different countries. We also similarly helped some of the citizens of our neighbouring countries," he said.

Underlining the concern of other countries for their citizens in India, Modi said that the foreign ambassadors are being updated about the situation in the country on a regular basis.

"We cannot predict with certainty how the situation will unfold despite our best efforts. You must also be facing similar concern," he said. (ANI)