'Prepare, but don't panic' is India's mantra to counter coronavirus: Prime Minister Narendra Modi proposes COVID-19 Emergency Fund at the video conference of all SAARC member countries
   15-Mar-2020
 
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Prime Minister Narendra Modi today said SAARC countries must prepare together, act together and succeed together in dealing with the COVID 19 situation. In his opening remarks at the video conference of all SAARC member countries to chalk out a common strong strategy to fight COVID-19 in the region, Prime Minister Modi said sharing perspectives is most valuable as it cannot be predicted with certainty how the situation will unfold despite best efforts. He said so far SAARC region has fewer than 150 cases but there is a need to remain vigilant as the region is home to one-fifth of humanity.
 
Sharing India's experience of combating the spread of the virus so far, the Prime Minister said "prepare but do not panic" has been the guiding mantra. He said India was careful to not underestimate the problem but also to avoid knee jerk reactions. He said India started screening entry into the country from mid-January itself while also increasing restrictions on travel. He said the step by step approach has helped avoid panic. Mr Modi highlighted that there were increased public awareness campaigns on TV and social media and special efforts were made to reach out to vulnerable groups
 
The Prime Minister also stated that diagnostic capabilities were increased. He said within two months, India moved from one major facility for pan India testing to more than 66 such labs and developed protocols for each stage of managing this pandemic. He said nearly 1400 Indians have been evacuated from different countries. He said a protocol has been built for such evacuations including carrying out testing by India's mobile teams deployed abroad.
 
Sharing his thoughts, Maldives President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih said the situation requires shared response at an unprecedented scale to contain the virus. Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapakse said the biggest challenge is to stop the virus from spreading within Sri Lanka. He said in view of this, Sri Lankan President has banned tourists entering the country. He emphasised the need for South Asia to share ideas and best practices in order to face up to the challenge of the rapid spread of the virus.
 
Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani said there is a need for a common cooperative framework to fight the pandemic of COVID 19. Earlier, Mr Modi had expressed desire that the leadership of SAARC nations should chalk out a strong strategy to fight Corona virus.
 
(With inputs from AIR)
 
PM’s Opening Remarks at Video Conference of SAARC Leaders on combating COVID-19
 
Excellencies,
I would like to thank you all for joining this special interaction at short notice.
I specially thank our friend Prime Minister Oli who has joined us almost immediately after his recent surgery. I wish him a speedy recovery. I would also like to congratulate President Ashraf Ghani for his recent re-election.
I welcome the new Secretary-General of SAARC, who is also with us today. I also acknowledge the presence of the Director of the SAARC Disaster Management Centre, from Gandhinagar
Excellencies,
As we all know, COVID-19 has recently been classified by W.H.O. as a pandemic.
So far, our region has listed fewer than 150 cases. But we need to remain vigilant.Our SAARC region is home to nearly one-fifth of all humanity. It is densely populated.As developing countries, all of us have significant challenges in terms of access to healthcare facilities. Our people-to-people ties are ancient, and our societies are deeply inter-connected.Therefore, we must all prepare together, we must all act together, and we must all succeed together.
Excellencies,
As we prepare to face this challenge, let me briefly share India’s experience of combating the spread of this virus so far.
“Prepare, but don’t panic” has been our guiding mantra.We were careful to not underestimate the problem, but also to avoid knee-jerk reactions. We have tried to take proactive steps, including a graded response mechanism. We started screening entry into India from mid-January itself, while also gradually increasing restrictions on travel. The step-by-step approach has helped avoid panic.We have increased our public awareness campaigns on TV, print and social media.
We have made special efforts to reach out to vulnerable groups.We have worked to quickly ramp up capacity in our system including through training our medical staff across the country.We have also increased diagnostic capabilities. Within two months, we moved from one major facility for pan-India testing, to more than 60 such labs.
And, we have developed protocols for each stage of managing this pandemic : for screening at entry points; contact tracing of suspected cases; quarantine and management of isolation facilities; and for discharge of cleared cases.
We also responded to the call of our people abroad. We evacuated nearly 1400 Indians from different countries. We also similarly helped some of your citizens, in accordance with our ‘neighbourhood first policy’.
We have now built up a protocol for such evacuations, including carrying out testing by our mobile teams deployed abroad.
We recognised that other countries would be also concerned about their citizens in India. So we briefed foreign Ambassadors about the steps we were taking.
Excellencies,
We fully recognize that we are still in an unknown situation. We can not predict with certainty how the situation will unfold despite our best efforts. You must also be facing similar concerns. This is why it would be most valuable for all of us to share our perspectives.
I look forward to hearing your views.
Thank you.
 
PM’s Remarks on Way Forward at Video Conference of SAARC Leaders on combating COVID-19
 
Thank you Excellencies, for sharing your thoughts on the situation, and the steps you have taken.
We all agree that we are facing a serious challenge. We do not as yet know what shape the pandemic will take in the coming days.
It is clear that we have to work together. We can respond best by – Coming together not growing apart; Collaboration not Confusion ; Preparation not Panic.
In this spirit of collaboration, let me share a few ideas on what India can offer to this joint effort.
I propose we create a COVID-19 Emergency Fund. This could be based on voluntary contributions from all of us. India can start with an initial offer of 10 million dollars for this fund. Any of us can use the fund to meet the cost of immediate actions. Our Foreign Secretaries, through our embassies can coordinate quickly to finalize the utilisation of this Fund.
We are assembling a Rapid Response Team of doctors and specialists in India, along with testing kits and other equipment. They will be on stand-by, to be placed at your disposal, if required.
We can also quickly arrange online training capsules for your emergency response teams. This will be based on the model we have used in our own country, to raise the capacity of all our emergency staff.
We had set up an Integrated Disease Surveillance Portal to better trace possible virus carriers and the people they contacted. We could share this Disease Surveillance software with SAARC partners, and training on using this.
Let us also use existing facilities, like the SAARC Disaster Management Centre, to pool in the best practices among all of us.
Looking ahead, we could create a common Research Platform, to coordinate research on controlling epidemic diseases within our South Asian region. The Indian Council of Medical Research can offer help coordinating such an exercise.
We can also ask our experts to brainstorm on the longer-term economic consequences of COVID-19, and how we can insulate our internal trade and our local value chains from its impact.
Finally, this is not the first nor the last such pandemic that will affect us.
We should also ask our experts to brainstorm, on the long term economic consequences of COVID 19 and how we can insulate our internal trade and our local value chains from its impact.
This can help to prevent such infections from spreading across our region, and allow us to keep our internal movements free.
 
PM’s Concluding Remarks at Video Conference of SAARC Leaders on combating COVID-19
 
Excellencies,
Thank you once again for your time and your ideas. We have had a very productive and constructive discussion today.
We all agree that evolving a common strategy is critical to handling such challenges.
And, we agreed to find cooperative solutions – we will share knowledge, best practices, capacities, and where possible, resources.
Some partners have made specific requests, including about medicine and equipment. My team has taken careful note of these. Let me assure you, that we will do our best for our neighbours.
Let us ask our officials to maintain close contact and develop a common strategy, in the spirit of partnership and working together.
Let us identify nodal experts from each of our countries, and they can have a similar video-conference one week from now, to follow up on our discussions today.
Excellencies,
We have to fight this battle together, and we have to win it together.
Our neighbourhood collaboration should be a model for the world.
Let me conclude by wishing all our citizens good health, and success in our united efforts to tackle this pandemic in our region.
Thank you.
Thank you very much.