COVID-19: Modi moots $10 bn Saarc fund; discusses way forward

India has proposed the creation of a COVID-19 Emergency Fund for member countries of the South Asia Association for Regional Co-operation (Saarc), which, could be based on voluntary contributions from all of countries. India also offered to contribute $10 million to start with. 

“Any of us can use the fund to meet the cost of immediate actions. Our foreign secretaries, through our embassies can coordinate quickly to finalise the utilisation of this fund,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi told his Saarc counterparts during a video conference.
Modi also said India is 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 disposal of Saarc members, if required.
Stating that the challenge that the rapidly spreading COVID-19 poses is serious, the prime minister said there is a need for better coordination considering the fact that it is not as yet known 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,” he said.
Modi also proposed to quickly arrange online training capsules for emergency response teams, in order to raise the capacity of all the emergency staff.
India, he said, has set up an Integrated Disease Surveillance Portal to better trace possible virus carriers and the people they contacted, adding that this surveillance software could be shared with other Saarc member countries.
Also, he said, existing facilities like the Saarc Disaster Management Centre can be used to pool in the best practices among all.
Outside the present challenge, the prime minister proposed the creation of a common research platform to coordinate research on controlling epidemic diseases within the South Asian region. The Indian Council of Medical Research can offer help coordinating such an exercise, he said.
He said experts should brainstorm in order to find ways to reduce economic consequences of COVID-19 disease over the longer-term, and to insulate Saarc internal trade and local value chains from its impact. 
Modi said Indian will respond to specific requests by some partners, including for medicine and equipment and said officials of all countries should maintain close contact and develop a common strategy, in the spirit of partnership and working together.
For this, he said, countries should identify nodal experts, who can have similar video-conferences one a weekly basis, for follow up.