A total of 26 Navy personnel have tested positive for Covid-19 in the Western Naval Command, with sources saying that “the floodgates have opened and the numbers are going to go up”. All the 26 sailors were staying in the same block in Mumbai at INS Angre.
INS Angre is a “shore establishment at Mumbai”, which means that it is not a sea-faring vessel, but it serves as a base depot for several important activities. It also has a floating population. According to sources, numbers are likely to go up even as “aggressive testing and contact tracing has started on April 7” when the first positive case was known.
“There has so far not been a single case of Covid-19 onboard any ship, submarine or air station of the Indian Navy. Our naval assets continue to be mission-deployed in three dimensions, with all the networks and space assets functioning optimally. The Navy remains combat-ready, mission-capable and is in full readiness to partake in the national mission to fight the pandemic as well as to provide support to our friendly neighbours in the IOR (Indian Ocean Region),” sources said.
In the first week of April, sources aware of the details told The Indian Express, an ex-serviceman, a former Chief Petty Officer who was working as a janitor in the Navy Nagar area, had been tested positive and was admitted to the INHS Asvini, the Navy hospital. “He had come in contact with somebody who had a history of international travel, and was tested positive in the first week of April,” sources said.
“Since being an ex-serviceman, and working in the Navy Nagar, he was hospitalised in Asvini,” and the “first serving sailor had come in contact with this ex-serviceman”. The sailor developed COVID-19 symptoms and was admitted in Asvini as well and was tested positive on April 7, sources said.
“We are in a state of a lockdown and heightened protocol was already active. All his block-mates in the mess were immediately quarantined and put under observation,” sources said, adding that they have all been tested, and results of many of them are still awaited.
However, the results of sailors who were staying with the first sailor came out on Friday and over 25 of them were positive. “They are asymptomatic, they are hale and hearty but their results have come positive. The entire block has been cordoned off and disinfected,” sources said.
Sources explained that these are unmarried sailors “so they stay in accommodation where dining and other areas are same”.
Sources also said that “there are many sailors there” as all the support outline units, base depot, support ship, administrative and logistics support are from Angre. “Protocols are in place, and aggressive contact tracing and testing started on April 7 itself, but it’s a massive facility” and there is a “lot of floating population as well in that block”.
Sources stated that “testing and identifying of each and every primary and secondary contact is going on”.
Navy said in a statement: “Most of these are asymptomatic and have been traced to a single sailor who was tested positive on April 7. They all reside in the same accommodation block at INS Angre. All primary contacts, though asymptomatic, were tested for Covid 19. Entire in-living block was immediately put under quarantine – containment zone and INS Angre too is under lockdown.” Navy sources mentioned.
“Containment zones and buffer areas have been designated and frequent disinfection continues to be carried out as per protocol to contain spread by breaking the chain of transmission.”
Navy said that “all actions as per established COVID-19 protocol are being taken” at the facility. “All other areas within naval premises have been under strict lockdown and stringent quarantine and safety protocols have been enforced for personnel and their families, with door to door screening being undertaken for identification of cases, if any”.
Last week, Navy Chief Admiral Karambir Singh, in a video message for the force, had asked the Navy to “hope for the best and plan for the worst”. He had also said that “if the caregivers become careseekers it would be a big problem”.
“I know it is a very difficult task because physical distancing onboard ships and especially submarines is a great challenge,” he had said, warning that the challenge was far from over and it was only going to intensify in days and weeks ahead.
Navies across the world are grappling with increasing cases of Covid-19, with hundreds of sailors on US and French aircraft carriers having being tested positively.