SAARC emergency fund for COVID-19 operationalized: MEA

PM-proposed SAARC emergency fund to combat coronavirus operationalised, says Ministry of External Affairs

The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) on Thursday said "very fast" movement was being made on Prime Minister Narendra Modi's proposals put forward during a SAARC nations' video-conference on coronavirus, with the emergency fund to combat the pandemic in the region already operationalised.

The SAARC nations vowed on Sunday to jointly combat the coronavirus as Modi proposed an emergency fund with an initial offer of USD 10 million from India.

The prime minister made a series of suggestions that were hailed by the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) leaders and representatives.

"I can announce that we are moving very fast on most of those proposals and announcements. On the emergency fund, it is already up and running. We have received many requests from other SAARC countries for assistance in the form of masks, shoe covers, gloves, disinfectants and other items," MEA Spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said.

"The quantum of assistance, which has been requested (from India) so far, has crossed USD 1 million. Supplies to Bhutan and the Maldives have been dispatched. Requests from other SAARC countries are under various stages of process," he added.

During the video-conference, Modi had also said India was assembling a rapid response team of doctors and specialists, along with testing kits and other equipment. They will be on stand-by, to be placed at the SAARC leaders' disposal, if required, he had told the participants.

On the rapid response team, Kumar said India had received informal requests from the Maldives and Nepal and those were being followed up.

He said in line with the prime minister's proposal of sharing of best practices, a video-conference was being scheduled in the next few days of health professionals of SAARC countries.

"Action on other elements of the announcement has already been initiated by the respective ministries," Kumar said.

Dammu Ravi, Additional Secretary in the MEA and the coordinator for COVID-19, said Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla will participate in a video-conference to take forward the SAARC nations' initiative in combating the coronavirus.

Kumar said the prime minister had called for the video-conference in the spirit that a crisis of this magnitude did not recognise borders and required a very coordinated response.

"It requires a response where you have to cooperate at the regional and global levels," he said.

Apart from Modi, Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Maldivian President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, Nepalese Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli, Bhutanese premier Lotay Tshering, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Special Assistant to Pakistani Prime Minister on Health Zafar Mirza had participated in the video-conference.

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