Asean, US vow to keep working together to counter Covid-19

A cyclist crosses an almost empty street in Hanoi on April 6, 2020. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

WASHINGTON - Asean and the United States vowed that vital medical supplies and equipment, critical agricultural products, and other essential goods and services would continue to flow across their borders, at a video conference on countering the coronavirus last week.

The Asean Coordinating Council Working Group on Public Health Emergencies and US officials from various agencies held the meeting about cooperating in public health emergencies and countering the Covid-19 pandemic on April 1.

"All affirmed that emergency measures designed to tackle Covid-19, if deemed necessary at the national level, must be targeted, proportionate, transparent, and temporary, and not create unnecessary barriers to trade or disruption to global supply chains," said the US and Vietnam governments, who co-chaired the meeting, in a joint statement issued on Monday (April 6).

At the meeting, Asean countries proposed to cooperate more with the US on health, including producing medical supplies, sourcing of test kits, ventilators and personal protective equipment, research, and the development and production of a Covid-19 vaccine, among other areas.

Asean countries also thanked the US for its help in combating the spread of the coronavirus, and for funding multilateral organisations such as the World Health Organisation and the United Nations Children's Fund.

The US has provided US$18.3 million (S$26.2 million) in emergency health and humanitarian assistance to Asean countries since the start of the outbreak, according to State Department statistics.

The US said it remained committed to providing international public health assistance and continuing to support exchange programmes, noting it had provided US$3.5 billion in support to Asean countries and trained 2,400 Asean medical and health professionals in the last two decades.

It also offered continued support for Asean member states in need of additional assistance.

The US also thanked Asean countries for facilitating the transit of American citizens seeking to return to America during the coronavirus crisis.

In turn, Asean countries said they appreciated the US' efforts to frequently update Asean diplomats with information on the Covid-19 measures it was taking that were relevant to their citizens.

"We discussed further steps to strengthen Asean-United States collaboration on Covid-19 response, including through high-level engagement, and on public health cooperation more broadly," said the statement.

The US is keen to help Asean countries and its secretariat develop region-wide disease control structures to strengthen the resilience and capacity of public health systems across South-east Asia, it added.

The US also proposed more video conferences between its Secretary of State and Asean foreign ministers, as well as between its Secretary for Health and Human Services and his Asean counterparts.

US President Donald Trump and Asean leaders were scheduled to meet on March 14 in Las Vegas, Nevada, for a special summit. The meeting was postponed indefinitely due to the coronavirus outbreak, and a new date has not yet been set.

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