BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – ASEAN leaders on Tuesday agreed to intensify cooperation to provide enough medicine and medical equipment to member states battling the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a joint declaration issued after a special virtual summit, leaders of the 10-nation bloc said regional reserves of medical supplies should be developed, as well as ASEAN reserve warehouses to support member states during public health emergencies.

They also proposed the establishment of the COVID-19 ASEAN Response Fund, which would reallocate existing funds towards containing the spread of the virus in Southeast Asia. Leaders also encouraged financial and technical support from ASEAN’s partners.

The statement added that ASEAN remains committed in sustaining regional supply chains, especially for food and medical supplies.

The grouping also stressed the need for a coordinated response to mitigate the economic and social impact of the pandemic. This would include developing a post-pandemic recovery plan to restore ASEAN connectivity, tourism and limit the economic damage caused by lockdowns across the region.

His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah also joined the teleconference — the first virtual meeting between ASEAN heads of government — saying that regular sharing of information, experiences and public health measures is crucial to improve ASEAN’s response to the pandemic.

He added that countering “fake news” and disinformation was also vital to avoiding public panic.

To date, the coronavirus has infected more than 20,000 people in the region with nearly a thousand deaths.

HM the Sultan speaks via video conference during the ASEAN Plus Three Summit on COVID-19 on April 14, 2020. Photo: Infofoto

His Majesty also acknowledged the grave economic challenges created by the pandemic, and stressed that ASEAN countries must work together to keep the regional economy afloat.

Speaking at an expanded meeting later on Tuesday that included leaders from China, Korea and Japan, the monarch said the flow of trade and services must continue in order to protect the livelihoods of people in the region.

He called on dialogue partners to build on trade and investment opportunities so that economies would be resilient enough to face future crises.

The sultan also welcomed expertise provided by China, Korea and Japan on combating the spread of COVID-19.

This article was updated on April 15 at 7.17am