From left, Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, President Joko Widodo and Health Minister Terawan Agus Putranto during the virtual Asean Special Summit at the Bogor Palace on Tuesday. (Photo courtesy of the Presidential Secretariat)

Asean to Set Up Covid-19 Relief Fund, Strengthen Cooperation During Pandemic

BY :NUR YASMIN

APRIL 14, 2020

Jakarta. Leaders of Asean member countries agreed to establish a collective post-pandemic relief fund after meeting virtually for the Asean Special Summit on Tuesday.

Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo urged the member countries to band together during the pandemic, which has killed 930 people in Southeast Asia, the majority of them, 459, in Indonesia.

The president also suggested forming a task force with Japan, China and South Korea, some of the first countries to be impacted by the pandemic.

"The president stressed the importance of Asean cooperation, especially within the Asean plus three [Japan, China, and South Korea] realm. We also suggested setting up protocols to protect residents of Asean countries during this pandemic," Retno said.

The summit resulted in a declaration that includes reallocating the existing Asean Development Fund to the Asean Recovery Fund (ARF) to restore stability in the region once the pandemic is over.

The block established the Asean Development Fund in 1974 as a kind of regional savings account set aside for infrastructure development.

Initially, each country put in $1 million to kickstart the program. 

The Asean economic ministers who had met each other earlier on March 10 have been tasked to maintain connectivity of the supply chain in the region and ensure trade disruptions are kept at a minimum.

"The leaders have asked the economic ministers to prepare a social safety net program for when the pandemic is over. We will need to recover from the economic and social impacts of the pandemic. Our main concerns are with small businesses and other vulnerable groups," Retno said on Tuesday.

The declaration also spells out cooperation agreements in information exchange, best-practice sharing, research development, epidemiology development and vaccine research.

It also suggests future collaborations in the provision of medical equipment, Covid-19 testing kits and personal protective equipment.

The rest of the document details protection for residents of Asean member countries, a strengthening of public communication and prevention of stigmatization and discrimination against Covid-19 victims. 

"To reduce cross-border spread of the virus, President Jokowi suggested Asean leaders come up with a standard operating procedure – the Joint Contact-Tracing and Outbreak Investigation, which is now included in the Asean Standard Operating Procedure for Public Health Emergency," Retno said.

When the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) hit the region in 2003, Asean leaders also launched collective measures against the virus.

Almost 20,000 residents of the ten Asean member countries have contracted the coronavirus, aside from the 930 deaths. 

Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia are leading the chart with the most number of infections in the region.

However, each country has been taking different measures to manage the spread of the virus.

The Philippines decided on a nationwide lockdown on March 17 with a stern "shoot them dead" warning to citizens if they violate the policy. 

Malaysia also locked down its borders the day after and has been extending the ban continuously as cases are still rising.

Indonesia has been cautiously avoiding using the term "lockdown" and sticks to extending travel bans and implementing large-scale social restriction in several cities, including the pandemic epicenter Jakarta.

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