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India offers $10 million to SAARC for fighting Covid-19

By IANS Updated: Mar 15, 2020 10:01 pm
Medical staff members wear masks and protective suits to mitigate the spread of coronavirus, outside the special isolation ward at Gandhi Hospital, in Hyderabad on Sunday. (PTI)

New Delhi, March 15 (IANS): India on Sunday offered $10 million to set up a common voluntary emergency fund for the members of South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

In an unprecedented move in the diplomatic history of the world, eight countries of SAARC held a web-summit to chalk out a joint strategy to contain the coronavirus outbreak that has hit the world.

The initiative was taken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in view of the WHO advisory to avoid public gatherings. The proposal was welcomed and accepted by other members of the SAARC – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

Prime Minister Modi led the video-conference on Sunday evening by briefing the members on the measures India took to prevent and contain the pandemic since the outbreak of Covid-19, which originated from Wuhan city in China.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Bhutan Prime Minister Lotay Tshering, Maldives President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, Nepal Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli, Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Pakistan’s Minister of State for Health Zafar Mirza, spoke one after another, giving details about the steps each of them have taken in their respective countries to control the pandemic.

Nepal Prime Minister Oli joined the summit even as he had undergone a surgery recently.

Prime Minister Modi also offered rapid response medical teams, along with testing kits and other equipment for the SAARC members. “They will be on a standby, at your disposal if required,” Modi said, adding that India could also provide online training capsules for medical emergency teams to raise the capacity of emergency staff.

Additionally, the Prime Minister suggested that the SAARC members could create an integrated digital database of virus carriers and the people contacted besides using the pre-existing facilities like the SAARC disaster management. Modi also offered to set up a common research platform for the control of epidemics within South Asia for future. Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) can coordinate such an exercise, he said.

Modi also suggested that all the members should jointly review the economic consequences of Covid -19 and insulate local trade and value chains from its impact.

The video-summit is significant because since 2016, SAARC has been mostly inactive. Prime Minister Modi had refused to attend the 2016 SAARC summit which was to be held in Islamabad, following the Uri terror attack perpetrated by Pakistani terrorists. After Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Bhutan also withdrew from the meet, the summit was called off.

SAARC summits are held biennially and hosted by member states in alphabetical order. The last summit was held in 2014 in Kathmandu, Nepal.

Health minister reviews actions taken to prevent, contain coronavirus

Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan reviewed on Sunday the status of actions taken by the states and Union Territories for prevention and containment of coronavirus and directed officials to scale up the capacity of the round-the-clock control room helpline in view of increased volume of queries.

According to a health ministry statement, Vardhan was apprised of the emerging international and national status of Covid -19 at the meeting as he took stock of the status and preparedness of the states and UTs in terms of quarantine facilities, isolation wards, adequacy of personal protective equipment and other items.

He reviewed in great detail the steps taken by the states to foster ‘social distancing’ in great detail and advised them to maintain hygiene and cleanliness in hospitals, and adhere to all laid down protocols for containment and management of the disease, the ministry said.

The health minister said the 71-year-old man from Maharashtra’s Buldhana who was admitted to a private hospital and died during treatment on Saturday, tested negative for coronavirus infection. He had returned from Saudi Arabia recently and had diabetes and high blood pressure.

A health ministry official said both the first and second confirmatory tests for coronavirus are free for all citizens.

About the two Covid -19 deaths in the country, Vardhan said both of them had pre-existing co-morbidities.

“Contract tracing of these cases is being rigorously pursued. So far, this has led to identification of more than 4,000 contacts who have been put under surveillance, the Union health minister said.

Vardhan directed officials to scale up the capacity of the 24×7 control room helpline by adding more lines and deploying additional human resource, to answer the queries about Covid -19, according to the statement.

The measures taken for avoiding non-essential travel and mass gatherings was also reviewed by Vardhan at the meeting. The outcomes of the discussions at the meeting shall be put up to the Group of Ministers (GOM) on Covid -19 at their meeting on Monday, it said.

As part of the government’s efforts to evacuate Indian citizens from coronavirus-affected countries, an Air India flight from Italy’s Milan arrived in Delhi this morning carrying 218 evacuees who were quarantined at the ITBP camp in Chhawla as per protocol, the health ministry said

The third batch of 236 evacuees from Iran also arrived on Sunday and they were quarantined at the Army facility in Jaisalmer. The passengers were tested prior to their departure from Iran and all were reported to be asymptomatic, it said.

The ministry also said that 265 passengers from coronavirus-hit countries have been quarantined at Thiruvananthapuram, Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bengaluru and Hyderabad.

According to the health ministry, the number of novel coronavirus cases in the country rose to 107 on Sunday. Twelve more people have tested positive in Maharashtra, taking the number of cases in the state to 31, it said. But state Health Minister Rajesh Tope said there were 32 cases.

Delhi has so far reported seven positive cases, Kerala 22 and Uttar Pradesh 11. Karnataka has six coronavirus patients while Ladakh three and Jammu and Kashmir had two. Telangana reported three cases. Rajasthan also reported two cases. Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Punjab have reported one case each.

By IANS Updated: Mar 15, 2020 10:01:17 pm