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Defence: The Invisible Enemy
India’s armed forces are lending their might in the country’s battle against the Covid-19 outbreak
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The Indian armed forces are at war with Covid -19, the invisible enemy that has left a trail of death across major parts of the world, and now threatens to unleash its quiet fury on the Indian subcontinent. And leading this fight is the Armed Forces Medical Services (AFMS).
However, this fight is not so much about protecting its own ranks, which so far has seen just one case of Covid -19 infestation. A 34-year-old soldier has contracted the coronavirus from his father who had travelled to Iran in February on a pilgrimage and tested positive a few days after his return. Although another case has been reported from the IAF facility in Hindon but the infested person is not from the forces.
The Indian Army is waging a real battle to keep the virus from entering in big numbers. It responded to the threat by establishing a quarantine facility in Manesar near Gurugram, and followed it up by establishing and operating medical facilities at Jaisalmer and Jodhpur for evacuees from Iran, Italy and Malaysia.
According to the defence ministry, evacuees from Wuhan and Japan have already been discharged after observing full protocol. It is to the credit of the Indian Army that so far, only one case of COVID-19 has been reported from these facilities which have dealt with more than 1,200 evacuees, medical staff and air crew.
Evacuating Indians from Hotspots
On the first day of the 21-day lockdown, the Army facility in Jodhpur received 277 evacuees from Iran including 273 pilgrims. The evacuees, which included 149 women and six children, were transferred from Delhi to Jodhpur on Indian Airlines flights and screened on arrival at Jodhpur airport. They were then taken to the Army facility which has been designed not just for isolation but also for providing mental and physical wellness through a regimented routine that includes sports and recreational activities.
Indian Air Force’s C 17 Globemaster aircraft has been flying to different parts of the world to evacuate Indian citizens. A massive rescue operation was undertaken by the IAF to evacuate Indians from Tehran. It evacuated 58 Indian pilgrims who were stranded in Iran as commercial air services between the India and Iran were suspended in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak in the West Asian nation.
The forces have been contributing in the fight against the pandemic in other ways as well. On 25 March, Indian Navy personnel from INS Hansa flew a team of four doctors from the Goa State Health department to Pune. The medical team led by Dr Savio Rodrigues, Head of Microbiology, Goa Medical College, will undergo training to set up a COVID test facility at Goa. Responding to a request from the state government for air transport, the Flag Officer Commanding of Goa area immediately initiated necessary procedures to fly the medical team to Pune. A few samples of COVID-19 suspects were also carried by the medical team for testing.
At the Army Headquarters in Delhi, officials except those involved in essential duties were told to stay at home to minimise exposure. The global lockdown has significantly reduced the office work be it international cooperation, training events, postings, courses, etc. The Army ordered that all courses due on 25 March or afterwards be postponed and classes involving more than 50 persons at one place be dismissed.
Besides, advisory has been issued by the Armed Forces on social distancing measures for prevention and containment of Covid-19 and guidelines have been sent across the country. As per these, unit functions such as bara-khanas, family welfare meets, large sports events, and parade at Sarva-dharm-sthal should be cancelled; facilities recording high foot fall and long queues such as hospitals, CSDs, grocery/ vegetable shops should have a dedicated team of service personnel; all non-essential travel and temporary duties to be curtailed unless absolutely necessary. Moreover, all three services have been directed to halt all foreign assignments/ courses/ UN missions till 15 April 2020.
Medical Facilities on Standby
Also, Army medical facilities at Jhansi, Binnaguri and Gaya with a total capacity of 1,600 beds have been kept on standby. More facilities are being readied to respond at short notice. This does not include the additional capacity created and kept ready by the sister services, the Navy and the Air Force.
With the number of coronavirus cases increasing significantly every day, the central government has appealed to retired medical officers from AFMS to come forward and join the fight against the deadlyvirus. The move came after discussions with the officials of Indian Army, who assured that the Army is prepared to deal with the present and future challenges with all its might and will continue to support the national effort.