India fund proposed by PM to tackle COVID-19 coronavirus

Prime Minister Modi asserts best way to deal with pandemic

India fund proposed by PM to tackle COVID-19 coronavirus

Making a strong pitch for South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) nations to jointly combat the COVID-19 coronavirus, India Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday proposed setting up a COVID-19 emergency India fund. The fund would have India committing $10 million initially for it, and the PM asserted that the best way to deal with the pandemic was by coming together and not growing apart.

Participating in the video conference with PM Modi were Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Maldivian President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, Nepalese Prime Minister K. P. Sharma Oli, Bhutanese premier Lotay Tshering, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani ,and Special Assistant to Pakistani Prime Minister on Health Zafar Mirza.

The underlying message of the video conference was unitedly taking on the pandemic, but Pakistan used the occasion to raise Kashmir, with Mirza calling for the “lockdown” to be eased in Jammu and Kashmir to deal with the coronavirus threat.

In a significant message, Modi asserted that it was important for the SAARC member countries to work together and said the region can best respond to the coronavirus pandemic by “coming together, not growing apart.” Modi said it was important to focus on collaboration, not confusion, and preparation, not panic.

Mirza, in his remarks, also hailed China for its efforts to deal with the coronavirus and urged other SAARC nations to learn best practices from it.

After initial remarks by the leaders, Prime Minister Modi made a series of suggestions which were hailed by the SAARC leaders and representatives.

“I propose we create a COVID-19 Emergency Fund. This could be based on voluntary contributions from all of us. India can start with an initial offer of $10 million for this fund,” Modi said.

“We are assembling a Rapid Response Team of doctors and specialists in India along with testing kits and other equipment. They will be on stand-by to be placed at your disposal, if required,” Modi told the SAARC leaders.

India had set up an Integrated Disease Surveillance Portal to better trace possible virus carriers and the people they contacted, and it could share this disease surveillance software with SAARC partners, Modi said. Modi also said India helped some citizens of neighboring countries by evacuating them from coronavirus-hit nations.

Maldivian President Solih backed a coordinated approach to deal with COVID-19, asserting that no country can deal with the situation alone.

Lankan President Rajapaksa said SAARC leaders should formulate a mechanism to help the economies of the region to tide over problems posed by coronavirus. He also proposed setting up a SAARC ministerial-level group to deal with issues related to coronavirus.

Hasina hailed PM Modi’s suggestions to deal with the pandemic and called for taking the initiative forward by more such video conferences, including one with health ministers of SAARC nations participating.

“Our collective efforts will help us devise a sound and robust strategy for SAARC region to fight coronavirus,” Nepal PM Oli said.

Outbound team meets finance ministry

In its continuing fight to resist curbs and levies on the tourism industry, especially in view of the corona virus, a top team of the Outbound Travel Operators Association of India on March 16 met with a senior official of the Ministry of Finance – Joint Secretary Varshney – to impress the need to not implement or at least delay the implementation of Tax Collection at Source (TCS) from April1 for tour packages abroad.

Led by President Riaz Munshi, the delegation emphasized that this could further its tourism, which is already suffering because of the COVID-419 coronavirus and various levies.

Earlier, the FAITH team had met with Tourism Minister P. Patel and also pleaded with the commerce ministry not to do anything which will further cripple tourism and make travel more expensive. The industry leaders, including TAAI President Jyoti Mayal and others have been active on the visual media of TV trying to convince the authorities that such levies will hit jobs also.

The count of virus cases in India has gone up to 114. The country from March 18 is putting curbs on visitors from Europe, as a step to enhance checking the spread of the virus.

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