'Heartening, Welcome Step': WHO Spokesperson Hails PM Modi's SAARC Initiative to Fight Coronavirus

PM Narendra Modi speaks to leaders and representatives of SAARC nations on combating COVID-19 via video conferencing.

PM Narendra Modi speaks to leaders and representatives of SAARC nations on combating COVID-19 via video conferencing.

WHO Spokesperson Margaret Harris said Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s initiative is a positive and welcome step and the world needs to work together in this hour of crisis.

  • News18.com
  • Last Updated: March 16, 2020, 10:21 PM IST
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New Delhi: The World Health Organisation on Monday praised India’s efforts at containing the coronavirus pandemic a day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a video conference with leaders of SAARC (South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation) nations and proposed a similar meeting G20 countries.

Speaking exclusively to CNN-News18, WHO Spokesperson Margaret Harris said Modi’s initiative is a positive and welcome step and the world needs to work together in this hour of crisis.

“We are very heartened when we see this. When I talk about community, I don’t simply mean communities in each country, it’s the world community and we as the world need to work together. So this strong regional initiative is very positive and welcome step,” Harris said.

SAARC nations on Sunday vowed to jointly combat coronavirus as Modi proposed an emergency fund with an initial offer of $10 million from India and asserted that the region can best respond to the pandemic by coming together, and not growing apart.

Apart from Modi, 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, participated in the video conference.

In his opening remarks, Modi said India's guiding mantra to deal with the virus was "prepare, but don't panic". "We were careful to not underestimate the problem, but also to avoid knee-jerk reactions," he said.

As the number of coronavirus cases touched 114 in the country on Monday, the government after a meeting of a group of ministers (GoM) proposed a set of social distancing measures to be in force till March 31.

“Travel of passengers from member countries of the European Union, the European Free Trade Association, Turkey and United Kingdom to India is prohibited with effect from 18th March 2020," said Lav Aggarwal, the Joint Secretary in the ministry.

"No airline shall board a passenger from these nations to India with effect from 1200 GMT on 18th March 2020. The airline shall enforce this at the port of initial departure," he said.

Both these instructions are temporary measures and shall be in force till March 31 2020 and will be reviewed subsequently, he said.

On March 11, India suspended all visas, except a few categories such as diplomatic and employment, till April 15 to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

The GoM held its seventh meeting on Monday and after detailed deliberations, social distancing measures as a preventive strategy has been proposed for implementation, Aggarwal said, adding that these interventions are proposed to be in force till March 31.

The key measures proposed include closure of all educational institutions — schools, colleges and universities — gyms, museums, cultural and social centres, swimming pools and theatres, he said.

All ASI-protected monuments and central museums across the country will also be shut till March 31, Union Culture Minister Prahlad Patal said. Students should be advised to stay at home and online education should be promoted, Aggarwal said.

"Non-essential travel should be avoided. Buses, trains and aeroplanes should maximise social distancing in public transport, besides ensuring proper disinfection of services," he said.

As many states virtually shut down to stem the spread of COVID-19, Modi hailed the contribution of doctors, nurses and healthcare workers in fighting the virus. He said there was a coordinated response to the outbreak, showing the strong spirit of the nation in such situations.

In a series of tweets with the hashtag 'India Fights Corona', Modi said the encouragement from people highlighting the steps being taken to combat the virus is boosting the morale of all the "remarkable people" at the forefront of the fight.

Gyms, cinema halls, swimming pools and other places were closed in many states. Adding to its restrictions, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said no religious, social, cultural and political gathering of over 50 people would be allowed in Delhi till March 31.

Meanwhile, Sikkim Chief Minister Prem Singh Tamang said neither foreign nor domestic tourists will be allowed to enter the state, and announced shutting down of educational institutes till April 15.

The Supreme Court, where lawyers, litigants and others were thermal screened, took suo motu cognisance of overcrowding and infrastructure of prisons across the country.

A bench of Chief Justice SA Bobde and LN Rao issued a notice to the Director General, Prison, and chief secretary of all states and union territories seeking their response by March 20 on steps taken for prevention of COVID-19.

Efforts were also on to bring back Indians stranded abroad. An Air India flight with 53 Indians evacuated from coronavirus-hit Iran landed in New Delhi and the passengers were flown to Jaisalmer in Rajasthan where they have been quarantined at the Army Wellness Centre. Iran is one of the worst-affected countries by the coronavirus outbreak with over 14,000 cases detected and over 700 people dead.

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