An Indian Air Force hospital in Bangalore became the first laboratory in the force to undertake coronavirus testing that will allow quick checking of suspected cases, even as the IAF is flying out blood samples from Leh to Chandigarh and Delhi for tests of the virus. The army is also liasoning with the civil administration in six states to provide the support of its hospitals and laboratories, while planning to send its medical personnel to severely affected areas.
The army liasoning with the civil administration is happening in Maharashtra, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Rajasthan. This comes even as Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Thursday reviewed his ministry’s action plan to tackle the coronavirus outbreak in India. While the armed forces have handled close to 1,500 evacuees at different quarantine facilities, army medical teams and navy ships are on standby to provide assistance to friendly countries in the neighbourhood. The Indian Air Force, on the other hand, has created nine quarantine facilities, each having a capacity of 200 to 300 persons, at nodal IAF bases across the country.
For the navy, entry of all personnel (service and civilian) into units inside naval bases, including ships under the Southern Naval Command have been strictly regulated. Personnel from ships returning from any other ports are not being permitted to leave their ships until they have spent 14 days from the last port of call.
Command Hospital Air Force Bangalore has been designated as the first laboratory in the IAF to undertake COVID-19 testing, which will “greatly enhance the region’s ability to carry out quick testing of suspected cases and allow prompt and timely intervention where required”, the IAF said. “IAF aircraft are continuing to fly in medical supplies and doctors to Leh and fly out blood samples for COVID testing to Chandigarh and Delhi,” the IAF said.
The army had reported its first coronavirus case, a 34-year-old soldier, from Leh. The army is liasoning with the civil administration in different states and is prepared to extend its network of hospitals and laboratory facilities to assist them at coronavirus hotspots, an official said on condition of anonymity. This measure is part of the fresh instructions issued by the army to its formations to tackle the pandemic. Another instruction is to prepare a plan for taking out medical personnel from lesser affected areas to augment health experts in severely affected areas, if required. Additional training of the army’s medical personnel at various hospitals to be better prepared for tackling the pandemic will take place as well. The army will also identify additional infrastructure for setting up quarantine and isolation centers in each station for its own personnel.
Singh held a review meeting with senior officials of the defence ministry on its action plan to deal with the COVID-19 situation. During the meeting, he appreciated the proactive role played by the armed forces and various departments of the ministry in evacuating Indian nationals and foreigners from COVID-19 affected countries and ensuring their proper care at various quarantine facilities. “He urged the armed forces and other departments to gear up their preparedness and provide all required assistance to the civilian administration at various levels,” the defence ministry said.
During the review meeting, he was briefed on various measures and assistance provided so far. The Indian Air Force has made several sorties and evacuated Indian nationals from affected areas in China, Japan and Iran. “Various quarantine facilities of the armed forces have, so far, handled 1,462 evacuees and discharged 389. Presently, 1,073 persons are being provided care at the facilities in Manesar, Hindan, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur and Mumbai. Additional quarantine facilities are on standby with 950 beds capacity,” the ministry said.
Army medical teams deployed in the Maldives have since returned after completing their task. Army medical teams and two ships of the navy are on standby to provide required assistance to friendly countries in the neighbourhood. At the Southern Naval Command, 10 teams of Battle Field Nursing Assistants (BFNA), consisting of non-medical personnel, have been readied at Kochi to help medical staff should the situation become overwhelming. Such BFNA teams are being readied at all other stations under SNC as well. Headquarters Southern Naval Command had prepared one of its training units at Kochi as the Corona Care Centre (CCC) for 200 Indian citizens being airlifted from different countries. A separate CCC facility for another 200 service personnel and families has been created for any eventuality affecting service personnel.
To monitor the prevailing situation and provide immediate response and assistance as required, a 24×7 crisis management cell has been set up at Air Headquarters and various Command Headquarters.
Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) laboratories have manufactured 20,000 litres of sanitizer and supplied it to various organisations, including 10,000 litres to Delhi police. DRDO has also supplied 10,000 masks to Delhi police personnel. It is tying up with some private companies to make personal protection equipment such as body suits and also ventilators, the ministry said.
Ordnance Factory Board has also ramped up production of sanitizers, masks and bodysuits. Bharat Electronics Limited is also engaged in manufacturing of ventilators.
These organizations have been directed to work in close coordination with the Ministry of Health and other concerned entities to meet the exigencies emerging out of the coronavirus situation.
Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat, Defence Secretary Dr Ajay Kumar, Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Karambir Singh, Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal R K S Bhadauria, Chief of Army Staff General M M Naravane, Secretary (Defence Production) Raj Kumar, Secretary (Ex-Servicemen Welfare) Sanjeevanee Kutty and Secretary Department of Defence R&D and Chairman DRDO Dr G Satheesh Reddy attended the meeting.