Virus fear resurrects moribund SAARC

Pakistan demands lifting lockdown after coronavirus cases reported in IOJK

Leaders of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), the regional forum long ignored by India because of its hostilities towards Pakistan, interacted through a video conference on Sunday to discuss a common strategy against the novel coronavirus.
While other countries were represented by their heads of governments, Pakistan had deputed Special Assistant to the Prime Minister and Minister of State for Health Dr Zafar Mirza to participate in the conference.
After the coronavirus cases reported in the Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IOJK), Pakistan demanded India to lift lockdown from the territory to enable the containment and relief efforts in view of health emergency.
“It is a matter of concern that COVID-19 has been reported from Jammu and Kashmir and in view of a health emergency, it is imperative that all lockdown in the territory must be lifted immediately,” Dr Zafar Mirza said, addressing a video conference of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) hosted by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to chalk out a plan against COVID-19.
Besides Zafar Mirza, Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Maldives’ President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, Nepal’s Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, Bhutan’s Prime Minister Lotay Tshering, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani also participated in the video conference.
Dr Mirza said that with over 155,000 infections, 5833 deaths and 138 countries involved, no nation and no region on earth could afford to be unresponsive to the prevailing situation.

Pakistan shares common concern over the potential of COVID-19 affecting South Asia. All our countries have confirmed cases. There is no room for any complacency. While hoping for the best we have to be prepared for the worst,” he said.
Among other measures, he proposed instituting exit screening by member states for travellers in the region, and instituting mechanisms for learning from the effective efforts of China, a SAARC Observer State, in containment and control.
He called upon the South Asian nations for a calm, calculated, and deliberate response to fight coronavirus but strongly advised against panic.
He highlighted Pakistan’s approaches and responses to the pandemic, underscored that Pakistan had been engaged in containment efforts from the outset of the outbreak.
Pakistan’s proactive strategy and containment efforts had been recognised and commended by the WHO, he added.
Dr Mirza said the diagnosed cases in Pakistan had been isolated and contacts were being traced proactively.
He said that being personally overseen by Prime Minister Imran Khan, Pakistan’s response strategy had four pillars including governance and financing, prevention, mitigation, and communication.
He told the eight-nation body that Pakistan had decided to close all the educational institutions for three weeks, entire western border for two weeks, restrict international flights to three airports only and ban all large public gatherings.
He said COVID-19 had been characterised as a global pandemic, but at the same time it was deemed controllable, provided timely and appropriate public health measures were put in place.
He underscored the need to empower and mandate the SAARC Secretariat to act as a platform for regional efforts to combat the pandemic.
He reiterated Pakistan’s earlier proposal of hosting SAARC Health Ministers’ Conference at the earliest opportunity.
Regarding the closure of Afghan border crossing pointed out by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Zafar Mirza said it was a temporary measure in light of the WHO guidelines.

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