On March 15, 2020, PM Narendra Modi along with members of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) nations chalked out a common strategy in order to combat the novel coronavirus in the region.
Modi made some announcements through a virtual summit attended by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Bhutan Prime Minister Lotay Tshering, Maldives President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, Nepal Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Pakistan’s minister of state for health Zafar Mirza.
Modi proposed the creation of a COVID-19 emergency fund based on voluntary contributions from all the countries with India making an initial offer of US$10 million.
Speaking about the funds, Modi said, “It can be used by any of the partner countries to meet the cost of immediate actions. He informed that India is assembling a Rapid Response Team of doctors and specialists, along with testing kits and other equipment, which will be on stand-by, to be placed at the disposal of the countries, if required.”
Supporting this, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani proposed common framework for telemedicine and suggested greater cooperation amongst the neighbouring countries.
Modi also stressed on his guiding mantra ‘prepare, but don’t panic.’ He said, we have already increased our public awareness campaigns on TV, print and social media, and stated that a step-by-step approach has helped reduced panic in the country. Moreover, special efforts have been made to reach out to vulnerable groups.
He said, “So far, our region has listed fewer than 150 cases, but we need to remain vigilant.”
“We started screening entry into India from mid-January itself, while also gradually increasing restrictions on travel.”
He said that India has not only evacuated almost 1400 Indians from different countries but also evacuated some of the citizens of the neighbouring countries in accordance with the ‘neighbourhood first policy’.
India has been monitoring the situation and taking initiatives such as India suspending all tourist visas and e-visas; Indian airlines announcing the cancellation of several of their international flights, among others.
India has also set up an Integrated Disease Surveillance Portal to help trace possible virus carriers and the people they contacted. He suggested that existing mechanisms like SAARC Disaster Management Centre can be used to pool in best practices.