PM Modi to Lead SAARC Video Conference on COVID-19: Pakistan says ‘We’re Available’

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken initiative to organize a video conference with eight-member SAARC nations at 5 pm on Sunday to chalk out a joint strategy to fight COVID-19 in the region, which killed over 5,000 people globally and infected 1.5 lakh others.

SAARC nations responded positively included Pakistan to Modi’s proposal. The Prime Minister of Bhutan and Sri Lanka President Gotabaya Rajapaksa were thanked PM Modi for the initiative. Pakistan Foreign Office Spokesperson Aisha Farooqui said in a tweet that coordinated efforts were needed to minimize the threat posed by the deadly coronavirus.

“We have communicated that SAPM (Special Assistant to Pakistani Prime Minister) on Health (Zafar Mirza) will be available to participate in the video conference of SAARC member countries on the issue,” Pakistan Foreign Office Spokesperson Aisha Farooqui said in a tweet on Friday.

Earlier in a tweet Modi Said, “I would like to propose that the leadership of SAARC nations chalk out a strong strategy to fight coronavirus. We could discuss, via video conferencing, ways to keep our citizens healthy”.

SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) was formed with eight South Asian countries-India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

South Asia, which is home to a significant number of the global population, should leave no stone unturned to ensure that the people are healthy, PM Modi said in another tweet.

So far, Eighty-four COVID-19 cases were identified in India whereas a total of 126 cases are being treated in SAARC region. Pakistan has found 20 cases. Two deaths in this region both from India were registered.

In a tweet, Raveesh Kumar, the External Affairs Ministry spokesperson said, “Come together for (the) common good! 15 March, 1700 IST. PM Narendra Modi will lead India at the video conference call of all SAARC member countries, to chalk out a strong common strategy to fight COVID-19 in the region”.

Indian Government has already taken robust steps to fight against COVID-19 including closing 18 out of 37 border check posts to international traffic and suspension of all existing visas – except a few types such as UN and diplomatic – till April 15, 2020. The government has also advised against non-essential travel abroad; people have been warned of a 14-day quarantine on their return. Various state governments have also reacted by declaring Holidays to Educational Institutions and shutting down public spaces such as malls and cinema theatres till this month-end.

On Saturday, major IT giant Infosys announced it would temporarily close a Bengaluru office and sanitize premises after a suspected COVID-19 case.