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Pak again seeks to host SAARC health ministers' video conference as COVID-19 cases soar past 1,100

Press Trust of India  |  Islamabad 

For the second time in a week, Pakistan on Thursday sought to host a video conference of SAARC health ministers "at an early date" to chalk out a joint strategy to combat the spread of the deadly novel coronavirus, which has infected over 1,100 people and claimed eight lives in the country.

Pakistan is the only country left to make voluntary contribution to the SAARC COVID-19 Emergency Fund proposed by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier this month with an initial offer of USD 10 million from India.

Addressing a weekly press briefing, Foreign Office spokesperson Aisha Farooqui reiterated Pakistan's readiness to host the SAARC Health Ministers' Conference.

"Pakistan has proposed a video conference of SAARC health ministers at an early date to coordinate efforts to stem the coronavirus in the region," she said.

On Tuesday, during a telephonic conversation with his Bangladeshi counterpart, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi proposed to host the SAARC Health Ministers' Conference.

Appreciating Pakistan's offer, Momen had conveyed Bangladesh's readiness to participate in the video conference.

In a video conference on forming a joint strategy to fight COVID-19 in the SAARC region, Prime Minister Modi on March 15 proposed the emergency fund with an initial offer of USD 10 million from India and asserted that the best way to deal with the coronavirus pandemic was by coming together, and not growing apart.

Subsequently, all member countries, except Pakistan, have made voluntary contributions to the Emergency Fund

While Nepal and Afghanistan pledged USD 1 million each, Maldives committed USD 200,000, Bhutan USD 100,000 and Bangladesh pledged USD 1.5 million to the fund. Sri Lanka on Monday pledged to contribute USD 5 million to the fund.

Responding to questions on influx of suspected coronavirus patients into Pakistan from Iran, Farooqui said the two countries are closing coordinating the movement of Pakistani pilgrims from Iran to ensure that the process takes place as per the prescribed procedures.

She noted that in his recent telephonic conversations with his counterparts from France and Spain, Foreign Minister Qureshi raised the issue of lifting of unilateral sanctions against Iran, given the challenge Tehran is facing due to COVID-19, as well as the need for debt restructuring and economic assistance for developing countries.

Iran on Thursday announced 157 new deaths from coronavirus, raising the official number of fatalities to 2,234.

Farooqui underlined that Prime Minister Imran Khan had also appealed to the US to lift sanctions from Iran on humanitarian grounds and also called for debt rescheduling and economic assistance for developing countries.

"This initiative has gathered traction in recent days, evidenced by the joint statement of IMF and World Bank calling for suspension of debt payments for poorer countries," she said.

Farooqui said China has provided Pakistan 12,000 test kits, 3,00,000 masks, 10,000 protective suits and USD 4 million to build a hospital.

She said a considerable amount of donation from private sources in China is also likely to arrive soon.

The Alibaba Foundation has also donated 50,000 test kits and 500,000 face masks, the spokesperson said, adding that the US has also announced USD 1 million assistance to Pakistan for dealing with the coronavirus crisis.

"Our diaspora communities across the world have also been mobilised to assist their compatriots in Pakistan," she said.

Farooqui said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has established a Crisis Management Unit (CMU) to monitor the overall evolving situation and coordinate with missions abroad to facilitate and repatriate Pakistani nationals across the world.

"All Pakistani missions abroad are actively engaged in reaching out to our overseas communities and to assist Pakistani passengers stranded in different parts of the world on a priority basis," she said, noting that the government in recent days has repatriated stranded Pakistanis from Saudi Arabia, Dubai and Doha.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Thu, March 26 2020. 21:02 IST