NEW DELHI: A video conference of trade officials of SAARC countries proposed by India is being planned to be held in early April to discuss the impact of the Coronavirus crisis on intra-regional trade and formulate a way forward.

The Department of Commerce in India will be nodal agency for this exercise. The date of the video conference is being worked out, persons familiar with the issue told ET.

The video conference of trade officials will consider the impact of travel restrictions on intra-regional trade within SAARC, recognizing the high level of inter-dependence of several of economies in the region, ET has learnt.

India has also proposed creating a research platform for all SAARC states to share ideas and proposals for diagnostic and therapeutic interventions for diseases and epidemics.

Another major deliverable under construction is an information exchange platform (IEP) for SAARC countries. The origin of the IEP for SAARC countries lies in PM Narendra Modi’s announcement at the March 15 SAARC video conference. It is a platform created by India for use of all SAARC countries to bring health professionals of SAARC countries closer together in real time. SAARC secretariat is not involved in this initiative, officials said.

The IEP is aimed at comprehensively covering the aspects of disease surveillance, contact tracing, travel restrictions and evacuation, risk assessment, diagnostics, isolation and quarantine methods and facilities, clinical management of patients, treatment options and protocols and safety of healthcare providers, officials said.

It also seeks to serve as a multipurpose vehicle to further discuss and conduct activities such as online training for emergency response personnel, knowledge partnerships, sharing of expertise in disease surveillance, including corresponding software, and joint research for new diagnostic and therapeutic interventions for epidemic diseases, officials informed.

The IEP is expected to be fully functional in the coming days. Pending its completion, a dialogue among doctors of participating countries on patient management, testing, disease surveillance has already begun through a SAARC WhatsApp group of doctors. All except Pakistan and Afghanistan have joined so far.

The MEA has also been in touch with Indian missions in SAARC countries, regularly updating them on the assistance/expertise being offered by health professionals of India.

On Covid-19 related offer of assistance to SAARC countries, India’s health ministry has started offering online training in the following areas — ventilator use, infection management and control, isolation facility management, training for community health workers and volunteers and quarantine management training.

Heath authorities of SAARC countries have also been informed of the ongoing training sessions on the web conducted by senior medical experts of AIIMS. These are available on YouTube, officials said.

SAARC Disaster Management Centre in Gandhinagar, with the assistance of MEA, Indian health ministry and Indian diplomatic missions in respective SAARC states, have already set up the website — http://www.covid19-sdmc.org

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