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SAARC leaders had an emergency meeting

Leaders of SAARC, who met through video conference on Sunday to discuss the coronavirus pandemic, shared experiences and problems that their countries faced due to the spread of the virus.

Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani said the future of the pandemic was unknown and hence it is more difficult to assess the damage the virus is going to cause.

He also spoke of how refugees from Iran were being forced to return, especially in the province of Herat.

Maldivian President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih apprised the SAARC leaders of what his government has done to tackle the spread of the virus.

“In 2003, we took an initiative to fight another epidemic, SARS. But no country on its own can succeed in tackling such crisis.”

Solih also highlighted how Maldives, a tourist hub, is losing out as the footfall has been drastically dwindling.

“In February there was a 14.3 per cent drop in number of tourists coming to Maldives, the fall was higher at 22.8 per cent in March. This is having a ripple effect on the economy of the country. We could lose about $446.6 million if the trend continues,” he said.

Apprising the leaders about measures taken to stop the spread of the virus, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said Sri Lankan citizens are mainly in South Korea and Italy, two virus hotspots. “We cannot stop them from returning to their country and they are being kept under 14-day quarantine upon return,” he said.

Calling for collective action against, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said, “We have cancelled all public meetings including the birth centenary celebrations of Sheikh Mujeeb-ur-Rahman. The lives of people are important; they must be protected.”

Nepalese PM KP Sharma Oli said the suspension of mountaineering permits has affected the economy of the country and his efforts would be directed at halting the virus spread.

Saying that stopping the spread of an enemy not visible is an uphill task, Bhutanese PM Lotay Tshering said it was important for all members to be on the same page.