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Asean should be united in 'extended campaign' against Zika: PM Lee

Tuesday, September 6, 2016 - 17:35
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SINGAPORE Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in foreseeing an "extended campaign" against the Zika virus in the Asean region, implored the 10-member bloc to unite against the virus so that regional trade is not interrupted.

SINGAPORE Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in foreseeing an "extended campaign" against the Zika virus in the Asean region, implored the 10-member bloc to unite against the virus so that regional trade is not interrupted.

Singapore will thus work with other Asean countries to fight the virus's spread, said Mr Lee in his speech at the plenary session of the 28th Asean summit in Vientiane, Laos.

"We should prepare ourselves for a possibly extended campaign against Zika, but ensure that the region remains open and connected for business and trade," he told Asean heads of government on Tuesday afternoon.

"Singapore will work with our Asean partners, as well as the international community, to combat the disease," he added.

His comments came as Singapore reported 258 cases of the virus as at Monday - a little over a week since the first locally transmitted case was reported in the city-state.

Monetary Authority of Singapore managing director Ravi Menon said there are early indications that there could be some small economic impact for the country.

The Zika virus is also transmitted locally in other Asean countries such as Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam, said the World Health Organization. Malaysia has also announced confirmed cases.

In his speech in Vientiane, Mr Lee outlined three issues that Asean should work on, one of which includes tackling transboundary challenges such as the haze and the Zika virus.

Noting that the virus is spread by the Aedes mosquito, Mr Lee said that the virus can "be endemic" in South-east Asia, "just like dengue (fever)". It is therefore important for Asean to work together to combat the virus.

Mr Lee also highlighted the need to fully operationalise the Asean Haze Monitoring System which was adopted in 2013, as well as the Asean Coordinating Centre for Transboundary Haze Pollution Control.

This will "send a strong signal to the errant companies that have been causing the haze pollution", Mr Lee told the other Asean leaders.

Another issue that Mr Lee brought up was the need to remain focused while reviewing Asean's processes.

He suggested that Asean meetings can be streamlined, like how the 28th and 29th Asean summits are now held back-to-back from Sept 6 to 8 in Vientiane.

But in reviewing processes like these, Mr Lee said the sanctity of the Asean Charter, which is a legal treaty, must be upheld.

Lastly, Mr Lee stressed the importance of Asean unity.

In acknowledging the diversity across Asean countries, Mr Lee said that having a united voice will give the grouping stronger bargaining power on the international stage.

"We must not let such differences divide us," he said. "Because if Asean countries are divided, we will lose our relevance and our value to our partners."