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Pakistan asks SAARC nations for calculated answer to coronavirus

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ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister’s Special Assistant on National Health Dr Zafar Mirza has called upon the South Asian nations that calm, calculated and deliberate response is need of the hour to fight coronavirus.
He was speaking at a videoconference of SAARC countries to devise a joint strategy to protect people of the region from falling prey to COVID-19.
Stressing the need for prevention and caution, the Special Assistant strongly advised against panic. He said Pakistan is amongst the first few countries to undertake a joint evaluation of the state of preparedness to cope with health emergences in the context of international health regulations 2005.
Dr Zafar Mirza also expressed Pakistan’s concerns over reports of COVID-19 from Occupied Kashmir.
He demanded that all lockdowns in the disputed territory must be lifted immediately, opening up communications and movement and enable containment and relief efforts.
Regarding a point raised by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani about closure of border crossings, he said Pakistan has done this temporarily to reinforce its points of entry and land crossings in light of WHO guidelines and steps being implemented by regional states to contain spread of the virus.
Dr Zafar Iqbal Mirza said Pakistan diagnosed cases have been isolated and contacts are being traced proactively. He said that Prime Minister Imran Khan is personally overseeing these efforts.
Highlighting Pakistan’s response strategy, the special assistant said it has four pillars, which include governance and financing, prevention, mitigation, and communication.
He said, “We have decided to close all our educational institutions for three weeks, entire western border for two weeks, restrict international flights to three airports only and ban all large public gatherings, reinforced screening measures at the airports and at the ground processing.”
He informed the participants that National Disaster Management Authority has been mandated and command and control centres have been established at federal and provincial level for effective coordination and surveillance at all levels.
Dr Zafar Iqbal Mirza said COVID-19 has been characterized as a global pandemic, but at the same time it is deemed controllable, provided timely and appropriate public health measures are put in place.
He said Pakistan has been involved in the containment efforts right from the outset of the outbreak. He said, “We have been alert to the dangers and have put in place appropriate public health measures and developed required protocols and guidelines for the safety of our citizens.”
The special assistant said, “If our health systems, disease surveillance systems and preventive measures are unable to cope with, the human and economic cost alone can be staggering. Region wise growth process will also be affected. National agendas will be harmed.”
Dr Zafar Mirza said unprecedented challenge demands an unprecedented response and “we must recognize that the national and local responses still remain the key and most critical.”
He proposed that SAARC secretariat is best place to coordinate at regional level, which should be mandated with establishing a working group of national authorities for health information and data exchange as well as coordination for global responses in real time.
He said that Pakistan would like to reiterate its earlier proposal of hosting SAARC health ministers’ conference at an appropriate time. He said the regional countries should reach out to specialized development partners including WHO for mobilization for technical advice and resources.
Winding up the debate, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi proposed creating a voluntary Covid-19 emergency fund in which India will contribute $10 million as well as training of ‘medical response team’ for SAARC countries.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Bangladesh Prime Minister Hasina Wajid, Maldivian President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Nepalese Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, and Bhutan Prime Minister Lotay Tshering also shared their views through video conference and called upon collaborated and joint efforts to overcome the pandemic. – TLTP, NNI