In the wake of the Corovirus pandemic leaders of SAARC nations met via video conference on Sunday to discuss measures to stop the spread of the virus. Pakistan was represented in the conference by Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Health Dr Zafar Mirza. Other SAARC countries were represented by the respective heads of State or Heads of Governments.

Addressing the South Asian leaders Dr Zafar Mirza said Covid-19 Pandemic is a global health emergency, the likes of which have not been witnessed in the past century. At the same time, while it has been characterized as a global pandemic, it is deemed “controllable” as well. Least of all SAARC, which is home to one-fifth of humanity, several of the world’s largest mega-cities, and many of the most densely populated regions, he added.

Dr Mirza said Pakistan shares the common concern over the potential of Covid-19 affecting South Asia. All our countries now have confirmed cases. Dr Mirza said WHO’s four-pronged advice offers a reasonable way forward- preparation and readiness, detection, prevention and treatment, reduction and suppression, and innovation and improvement. He said Pakistan has been involved in containment efforts right from the outset of the outbreak.

“We have been alert to the dangers, and have put in place appropriate protocols for the safety and health of our people” he added. SAPM on Health said we have been matching our measures to real-time threat assessments. While, we have stressed the need for caution, we have strongly advised against panic. A calm and deliberate response is the need for the hour, In consultation with WHO, we have been taking steps to restrict movement to and from the affected areas, regulate lights, institute detection measures at entry points, and establish quarantine controls at border crossings Diagnosed cases are being quarantined, and contacts traced proactively.

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Dr. Mirza shared that Prime Minister Imran Khan is personally overseeing these efforts. Resultantly, Pakistan has managed so far to contain, an achievement the WHO has recognized and commended. Our National Security Committee met on 13 March, for the first time on a national health issue, and has decided to take further steps to contain the spread he informed.

The four pillars of our response strategy include Governance and Finance, Prevention, Mitigation, and Communication. Dr Zafar Mirza mentioning the steps taken by Pakistan Government said we have decided to close all educational institutions for three weeks, close the entire western border for two weeks, restrict international flights to three airports only, ban all public gatherings, and reinforce screening and administrative measures at seaports.

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The National Disaster Management Authority has been mandated to lead the inter-agency effort at the federal and provincial levels he said. Effective coordination at all levels is deemed critically important. The pandemic forces us to think not in terms of nations and States, but as a collective. The unprecedented challenge, therefore, warrants unprecedented responses. We must recognize that national and local responses remain the most critically important.

It is equally important to pursue evidence and science-based responses. Stigmatization and stereotyping are counter-productive. The SAARC Secretariat is best placed to coordinate SAARC’s endeavours With this in view, Pakistan proposes that the SAARC Secretariat be mandated to establish a Working Group of respective national authorities for information and data exchange as well as coordination for responses in real-time, learn from and disseminate the experience of SAARC Observer States, particularly China that is effectively addressing the challenge and can share valuable insights. The challenge at hand, demands sagacity, vision and synergy stressed Pakistan SAPM on Health Dr. Zafar Mirza.