South Asian leaders call for cooperation on coronavirus

Sri Lanka President Gotabaya Rajapaksa

Leaders and officials from the eight South Asian nations held a video conference Sunday calling for closer cooperation to combat the spread of the coronavirus in the region, which is home to a fifth of the world’s population.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who initiated the conference, proposed creating a COVID-19 emergency fund to be used by South Asian nations to combat the spread of the disease.

Presidents and prime ministers from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka, and a representative from Pakistan, shared steps taken by their governments in their efforts to control the spread of the virus.

Pakistan was represented by Zafar Mirza, a special assistant to Prime Minister Imran Khan.

The eight nations are members of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, or SAARC, which was formed in the 1980s to boost economic and regional cooperation between the countries. However, the rivalry and disputes between India and Pakistan have stalled the group’s progress.

“We must all prepare together, we must all act together, we must all succeed together,” Modi said.

Afghan President Ashraj Ghani said his main concern was his country’s open border with Iran, which has been hit especially hard by the new virus. Maldivian President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa both said they were worried about their island nations’ drop in tourists.

Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina proposed holding a conference among health officials from South Asian countries.

The virus has infected more than 156,000 people worldwide and killed over 5,800.

While the coronavirus can be deadly, particularly for the elderly and people with other health problems, for most people it causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. Some feel no symptoms at all and the vast majority of people recover.