10:58 GMT26 October 2020
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    New Delhi (Sputnik): South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) members met via video conferencing on Sunday to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on the region. Absent Pakistan, all heads of states represented their own countries in the tele-meeting.

    The SAARC nations agreed to jointly fight the COVID-19 pandemic, as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi proposed a special fund, with an initial offer of $10 million, from India. Agreeing to a proposal from Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Maldives in the SAARC health expert conference to discuss the impact of COVID-19, Prime Minister Modi agreed for a video conference next week.

    "Let us ask our officials to maintain close contact and identify nodal experts from each of our countries and they can have similar video conference one week from now to follow up on our discussions today," Modi offered.

    Modi emphasised that the region can best respond to the pandemic by working together, stating that "we have to win it together".

    "I propose, we create a COVID19 emergency fund. This could be based on voluntary contributions from all of us. India can start with an initial offer of 10 million US dollars for this fund," Modi said, adding that the SAARC collaboration should be the model for the world.

    While the heads of each SAARC member attended the video conference, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan skipped the tele-meeting, and health minister Zafar Mirza took his place.

    Mirza, like representatives from the Maldives and Bangladesh, suggested that health ministers of all the SAARC nations should hold a conference as soon as possible.

    ​Mirza appreciated efforts made by China to deal with coronavirus and urged other SAARC nations to learn best practices from it.

    Raising Kashmir, Mirza said, "In view of the health emergency, it is imperative that all lockdown in Jammu and Kashmir" must be lifted immediately.

    "Opening up communication and movement would facilitate dissemination of information, allow distribution of medical supplies and allow containment...to proceed unimpeded," according to the special assistant to the Pakistani prime minister on health.

    Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said, "To continue this dialogue at technical level, our health ministers, health secretaries and health experts should also hold this kind of video conferences to discuss specific areas of cooperation."

    Sri Lanka and the Maldives expressed concern over the impact on the economy due to the spread of the coronavirus. 

    Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said: "Our economy has taken serious blow, particularly [the] tourism sector which was just recovering after last years' terrorist attack. I strongly recommend SAARC leaders to formulate a mechanism to assist our economies to tide over difficult period."

    In an attempt to improvise ties between the SAARC nations, Modi suggested creating a common platform to coordinate research on controlling pandemics in the South Asian region.

    Among SAARC nations, India (107) and Pakistan (52) have reported coronavirus cases, while there are said to be 16 cases of coronavirus in Afghanistan. Sri Lanka's health department confirmed 18 cases of coronavirus, including seven new cases on Sunday. 

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    coronavirus, COVID-19, SAARC, Imran Khan, Narendra Modi, Afghanistan, Nepal, Maldives, Pakistan, India
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