President participates in Video Conference with SAARC Leaders to discuss COVID-19 South Asian Regional Response

President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih has participated in a Video Conference with SAARC Leaders, to discuss the South Asian Regional response to contain the COVID 19 pandemic.

The President joined in from the President’s Office in the video call which occurred at the initiative of the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi. Also participating were the President of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, the President of Sri Lanka Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of Nepal Sharma Oli, the Prime Minister of Bhutan, Lotay Tshering, and Pakistan’s Minister of State for Health, Dr. Zafar Mirza.The participants took turns sharing their country’s particular concerns relevant to the rapid and global spread of the novel Coronovirus, Covid19 which the World Health Organization declared a Global Health Pandemic on March 11th 2020.

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There are currently over 150000 cases and 129 countries affected by this pandemic. So far over 100 cases have been detected across South Asia. During this timely meeting, which was convened to enhance and better coordinate regional efforts to contain the virus, President Solih reiterated that this is a cross-border issue that requires global cooperation.

The President emphasized that the Maldives had been proactive in taking measures to contain the virus from January onwards, well in advance of the first Covid19 related case manifesting in the Maldives on 7th March this year (as of March 15th there are 13 cases in the country). These measures include establishment of quarantine facilities, implementing detection measures and outlining standard operating procedures for quarantining, and advising residents to exercise personal hygiene, avoid mass gatherings and practice social distancing. The Maldives has also imposed travel restrictions, banning incoming passengers from badly affected countries such as China, Italy, Iran, Spain. He stressed that regional efforts will be needed to ensure that South Asian countries’ health care resources do not become overburdened.

President Solih also highlighted that the necessary precautions and restrictions that have limited travel to the country has had significant consequences on the country’s tourism industry, which through direct and indirect contributions accounts for two thirds of the country’s GDP, adding that measures will be needed to mitigate the impact on country’s economy. The other SAARC leaders which participated in the call outlined similar concerns, pertinent to controlling the flow of potentially infected people into their countries; ensuring that their health care system can handle the burgeoning amount of cases, and that their most vulnerable population are adequately attended to; and finally that there are concerted regional efforts to address this pandemic. Prime Minister Modi proposed the creation of a designated COVID19 fund to which SAARC member states can contribute to, and to which India will make an initial contribution of 10 million US dollars.

The Prime Minister also proposed the need for a regional relief package to stimulate South Asian economies, and to further discuss on devising a long-term recovery strategy. President Solih and the other leaders present welcomed these suggestions.In their concluding statements, all the participating leaders and health experts reiterated the need for the entire region to collaborate in meeting the challenge posed by this global pandemic, by scaling up health cooperation and collective efforts to capacity build in this area, by sharing medicine, equipment and human resources. At the end of the call, President Solih thanked Prime Minister Modi for taking this important initiative and thanked him further for India’s efforts to expedite bringing back Maldivian nationals who had been residing in Wuhan, during the lockdown, where the virus originated from. The Prime Minister in turn thanked all the participants for their contributions and wished them well in their efforts to combat the virus.

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