Asian countries pledge ‘regional solidarity’ with China over coronavirus outbreak

ember states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) declared their “solidarity” with China and in working to reduce the economic and social impact of the pandemic on the region. (Reuters)
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Updated 20 February 2020

Asian countries pledge ‘regional solidarity’ with China over coronavirus outbreak

  • China in emergency summit plea for more people-to-people cooperation to contain pandemic

KUALA LUMPUR: An intergovernmental group of Asian countries on Thursday pledged support to China in its fight against the killer coronavirus outbreak.

Member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) declared their “solidarity” in working to reduce the economic and social impact of the pandemic on the region.

“ASEAN expressed its confidence that China would be able to handle the outbreak, however, each ASEAN country offers their help to China to address the crisis together,” said the Malaysian Minister of Foreign Affairs Saifuddin Abdullah.

Speaking on the sidelines of the Special ASEAN-China Foreign Ministers’ Meeting on the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), being held in Vientiane, the capital of Laos, he added: “There are impacts, especially economic impacts. We will work together to overcome this.”

The minister pointed out that the association had pinpointed a need to strengthen information exchange between ASEAN and China. He said that it was still unclear how the virus was being spread, which was “all the more reason for us to exchange notes.”

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi urged nations to strengthen people-to-people cooperation in the region, as ASEAN ministers and Chinese officials held hands while chanting, “stay strong, Wuhan. Stay strong, China. Stay strong, ASEAN.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that more than 77,000 people have contracted the virus worldwide, the majority of them in China.

Dr. Oh Ei Sun, senior fellow with the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, told Arab News on Thursday that the special China-ASEAN meeting sent a strong message to the world that the region was taking the virus outbreak “very seriously. These countries are seeking a more collaborative approach in handling the matter. Hopefully, it could at least improve the mechanism of sharing timely information and best practices in countering the outbreak.”

Thomas Daniel, senior analyst at the Malaysian Institute of Strategic and International Studies, said the main outcome of the meeting was “regional solidarity” and cultivating a sense of confidence-building in the wider region.

“It is more about the images and messaging than it is about concrete actions putting forward,” he added.

Daniel noted that China had been very appreciative of the support shown by ASEAN for the ongoing health crisis and said: “The emergency meeting definitely could have been done earlier. In cases like this, most of the time reactions are ‘nation first.’ It takes time for a multilateral approach to take place.”

However, ASEAN member states have so far been uncoordinated in implementing preventive measures to stop the virus’ spread.

While Malaysia won praise from the WHO and Singapore was lauded by Harvard University experts on Tuesday, Cambodia on Feb. 14 allowed hundreds of passengers on the Westerdam cruise ship to disembark in the port of Sihanoukville. Days later, coronavirus infections were reported among those who were allowed to go ashore.


UK PM says schools must open in September

Updated 46 min 1 sec ago

UK PM says schools must open in September

  • A study has warned that Britain risks a second wave of COVID-19 this winter if schools open without an improved test-and-trace system
  • The government wants all pupils to return to school by early September

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said reopening schools in September was a social, economic and moral imperative and insisted they would be able to operate safely despite the ongoing threat from the pandemic.
His comments follow a study earlier this month which warned that Britain risks a second wave of COVID-19 this winter twice as large as the initial outbreak if schools open without an improved test-and-trace system.
Writing in the Mail on Sunday, Johnson said restarting schools was a national priority. Schools would be the last places to close in future local lockdowns, he was quoted by another newspaper as telling a meeting on Thursday.
Schools in England closed in March during a national lockdown, except for the children of key workers, and reopened in June for a small number of pupils.
The government wants all pupils to return to school by early September in what Johnson has called a “national priority.”
“Keeping our schools closed a moment longer than absolutely necessary is socially intolerable, economically unsustainable and morally indefensible,” Johnson wrote.
The economic costs for parents who cannot work if schools are shut are spiralling, and the country faces big problems if children miss out on education, the prime minister warned.
“This pandemic isn’t over, and the last thing any of us can afford to do is become complacent. But now that we know enough to reopen schools to all pupils safely, we have a moral duty to do so,” he wrote.
The Sunday Times newspaper reported that he has ordered a public relations campaign to ensure schools open on time and told the meeting last week that they should be the last places to close behind restaurants, pubs and shops.