A day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi called on SAARC nations to work together to contain the deadly novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, pandemic, a spokesperson for Pakistan's Foreign Affairs ministry responded, acknowledging the need for "coordinated efforts at global and regional level(s)".
In a tweet posted early this morning, the spokesperson said the Special Assistant (Health) to Prime Minister Imran Khan had been deputed to participate in a proposed video conference call on measures to deal with COVID-19.
"The threat of COVID-19 requires coordinated efforts at global and regional level. We have communicated that SAPM (special assistant to Prime Minister) on Health will be available to participate in video conference of SAARC member countries on the issue," the tweet read.
The threat of #COVID-19 requires coordinated efforts at global and regional level. We have communicated that SAPM on Health will be available to participate in the video conference of #SAARC member countries on the issue.— Spokesperson ???????? MoFA (@ForeignOfficePk) March 13, 2020
The spokesperson had earlier said Pakistan was ready to extend assistance to its neighbours. The Pakistan Prime Minister has already chaired an emergency meeting on national security to deal with the coronavirus outbreak.
On Friday PM Modi urged India's neighbours to join hands to fight the outbreak that has claimed over 5,000 lives worldwide and infected more than 1.3 lakh people. He asked SAARC leaders to help chalk out a "strong strategy to fight coronavirus".
"I would like to propose that the leadership of SAARC nations chalk out a strong strategy to fight coronavirus. We could discuss, via video conferencing, ways to keep our citizens healthy," the Prime Minister tweeted.
I would like to propose that the leadership of SAARC nations chalk out a strong strategy to fight Coronavirus.— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) March 13, 2020
We could discuss, via video conferencing, ways to keep our citizens healthy.
Together, we can set an example to the world, and contribute to a healthier planet.
India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka are members of SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation).
Prime Minister Modi's call to band together against COVID-19 was favourably received by SAARC nations, with Lotay Tshering, the Prime Minister of Bhutan, replying: "As members of this region, we must come together in such times. Smaller economies are hit harder, so we must coordinate".
This is what we call leadership. As members of this region, we must come together in such times. Smaller economies are hit harder, so we must coordinate. With your leadership, I have no doubt we will see immediate and impactful outcome. Looking forward to the video conference. https://t.co/2RnokAJQOs— PM Bhutan (@PMBhutan) March 13, 2020
Sri Lanka President Gotabaya Rajapaksa also responded, tweeting: "Thank you for the great initiative Shri Narendra Modi. (We) are ready to join the discussion and share our learnings and best practices and to learn from other #SAARC members".
Thank you for the great initiative Shri @narendramodi - #LKA is ready to join the discussion & share our learnings & best practices and to learn from other #SAARC members. Let's unite in solidarity during these trying times and keep our citizens safe. https://t.co/fAiT5w3O8D— Gotabaya Rajapaksa (@GotabayaR) March 13, 2020
There are over 80 confirmed cases in the country and, as per data from the World Health Organisation, there are 126 cases in SAARC region; Pakistan has 20 COVID-19 cases.
As part of its response, the government has shut borders to existing visas - except diplomatic, official, UN/international organisations, employment and project - till April 15.
Various state governments have also reacted, shutting down public spaces such as malls and cinema theatres, as well as closing schools and colleges. On Saturday, leading IT major Infosys announced it would temporarily close a Bengaluru office and sanitise premises after a suspected COVID-19 case.
The COVID-19 outbreak began in a market in China's Wuhan district in December last year.
The World Health Organisation has declared the novel coronavirus a pandemic, meaning it has spread worldwide and affected huge number of people.
In a series of tweets, the WHO said it was "deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity (of the virus), and by the alarming levels of inaction.