The ”COVID-19 Emergency Fund” proposed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday during his video conferencing with SAARC leaders for a united fight against the pandemic by South Asian countries is ”up and running”, the External Affairs Ministry announced today.

At a media briefing, External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said the quantum of assistance sought by members countries from the fund has already crossed the $1 million mark. Modi had offered an initial contribution of $10 million by India for the fund which would be at the disposal of all eight SAARC countries: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Afghanistan, Bhutan, and the Maldives.

The spokesperson said other decisions taken by the SAARC leaders during the video conference were also being implemented. India has already dispatched consignments of medical assistance to Bhutan and the Maldives. The consignments included masks, gloves, disinfectants and shoe covers.

India has also received requests for rapid response teams from Nepal and the Maldives. These requests were being followed by New Delhi.

The spokesperson said the SAARC countries were also sharing best practices, like online training, to combat the virus. Foreign secretaries and health experts of SAARC countries would also be soon holding video conferencing as a follow up to the discussions held among SAARC leaders on Sunday.

Meanwhile, the government advised Indian citizens abroad to stay put wherever they were in view of the gravity of the situation arising from the coronavirus.

”It’s not advisable for people to move from one region to another in the current situation. They should stay put wherever they are in their own interest as well as in the interest of their near and dear ones,” Dammu Ravi, Coordinator (COVID-19) in the External Affairs Ministry, said at the media briefing.

He said Indian missions abroad were looking into specific requests of every Indian citizen stranded abroad. ”We need to work together to control this situation. The Indians need to take all precautions and remain in touch with Indian missions,” he said.

In response to a question, Ravi said, ”We have evacuated 590 people from Iran where the situation is very severe. The Indians infected with coronavirus in Iran have been segregated and are being taken care of very well. We believe they will recover and we will bring them back.”

The senior official said the External Affairs Ministry has set up a ”COVID-19 Cell” which would work round the clock to assist Indians stranded abroad.