Gravediggers carry the coffin of a coronavirus victim during a burial at a cemetery in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, on July 16. (Photo: AFP)
The European Union has more than doubled its financial pledge for the 10 member nations of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) to help combat the spread of Covid-19 and to mitigate the economic and social impact of the deadly pandemic. Under the renewed pledge, the EU will mobilize more than €800 million (US$915 million), which compares with $380 million offered in April. “We are facing an unprecedented health crisis with severe consequences in the EU and ASEAN,” EU ambassador to ASEAN Igor Driesmans said in a statement. “In the spirit of our strong cooperation, building on four decades of region-to-region partnership, we have mobilized a ‘Team Europe’ package of over €800 million to assist ASEAN and its member states to alleviate the economic and social impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.” He said the objective of this “Team Europe” approach is to combine resources from the EU, its member states and financial institutions, particularly the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.
ASEAN, whose members are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam, has had mixed success in dealing with Covid-19. Indochina has had few cases and no deaths, while Indonesia — by far the largest country in the bloc — has struggled with almost 90,000 confirmed cases and 4,320 deaths. Vietnam and Singapore have been praised for their response, but Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand, and the Philippines have been rebuked by human rights groups for using emergency Covid-19 powers to stifle dissent. However, it is the region’s economies that — like elsewhere in the world — have fallen on troubled times because of the pandemic, with industries like tourism grinding to a halt amid global lockdowns. The EU launched “Team Europe” in April as a package of more than $42 billion to support partner countries in the fight against the coronavirus around the globe. Funds will be used to support action at country and regional levels in addressing the immediate health crisis, strengthen health, water and sanitation systems, as well as mitigate the socioeconomic impact. ASEAN and EU foreign ministers agreed to deepen cooperation at a meeting in March, with a focus on exchanging experience, maintaining supply chains and advancing scientific research. Driesmans said the package includes regional support for the World Health Organization while enhancing collaboration between scientific organizations within ASEAN. “In ASEAN member states, programs target civil society support, budget support for economic recovery, healthcare facilities and testing capacities, as well as humanitarian assistance,” he said. He also singled out humanitarian assistance for vulnerable communities, improving testing capacities and providing opportunities for women to lead in private sector businesses through training in financial and digital literacy.
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