ISLAMABAD: Experts from various countries of South Asia urged greater regional cooperation in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. They were speaking at a webinar titled ‘response to challenges of pandemic in South Asia’ organized by the Institute of Regional Studies (IRS) here on Monday. 

Ambassador Riyaz cited staggered attendance in offices, closing down of indoor diners and gathering halls, initiation of online classes in educational institutions, and imposition of a timetable for opening and closing of markets of non-essential items as examples of the government’s smart approach. The results of the policy, he maintained, were evident from the lower infection rates and casualty figures in Pakistan as compared to other regional countries. 

Professor Swaran Singh of the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, was of the view that the democratic and demographic dividend of South Asia was under threat from the virus. He supported the idea of introducing a global treaty for fighting pandemics, which, he shared, was already under discussion. Professor Singh cautioned against knee-jerk reactions to the pandemic without keeping in mind the domestic social realities of the South Asian countries. He called for evolving long-term SAARC-level responses to the pandemic as he believed that it was not likely to disappear any time soon. 

Professor Singh highlighted greater understanding of the scientific nuances with regard to the spread and control of Covid-19. He further stated that humans were social beings and it was highly stressful for them to endure social distancing. He even suggested to call it physical distancing instead of social distancing. 

Dr Prakash Bhattarai, Director of the Centre for Social Change, Nepal, blamed the government’s response to the pandemic for the high casualty figures in his country. He was of the view that the Nepalese government politicized this important subject resulting in misplaced priorities. He argued that the Government of Nepal was not adequately prepared for the second wave of the pandemic despite warnings issued by various international health agencies. He shared that non-scientific immunity-boosting methods were propagated by the Prime Minister of Nepal himself and that the management of vaccine procurement and distribution was also politicized. 

Dr Bhattarai regretted that critical opportunities for regional cooperation were missed in terms of initiating a dialogue on the pandemic in South Asia and commencing joint research on vaccine production and distribution.  He added that there was a lack of consolidated regional data on the pandemic resulting in adequacies related to damage assessment and a comprehensive regional response.=DNA