The challenge of countering the spread of COVID-19 virus has brought in all branches of the government, including the armed forces, at the forefront of this fight. As the biggest service among the armed forces, the Army, led by the Army Chief General MM Naravane, will have a leading role to play in this fight. The Indian Express conversed with General Naravane over email about the effect of spread of COVID-19 on the Army, its preparation and contingency planning.
What has been the major effect of spread of COVID-19 on the Army – operationally, recruitment and training-wise, and in terms of logistics and planning?
It is the earnest responsibility of the Indian Army to keep the borders safe while the country is preparing and fighting COVID-19. Indian Army is undertaking its operational tasks like before and there is no effect on operational preparedness. Various measures have been promulgated with respect to restricting the movement of personnel, cancellation of conferences/ seminars, postings etc in view of spread of COVID-19. These measures are a must to prevent any further spread of COVID-19 and in sync with various directions and advisory issued by GoI.
There are contingency plans in place and spread of COVID-19 will not affect the core efficiency of the IA. The temporary phase of postponing our routine activities will soon be overcome by rescheduling them as and when the situation stabilizes. As of now, our focus will be to combat COVID-19 aggressively by taking precautions, following lockdown and curfew measures effectively and preparing own resources for future scenario.
I’m happy to say that there is an excellent synergy between all organs of the government and Indian Army is geared up in keeping with the overall mantra “Say No to Panic, Yes to Precaution”.
In many European countries, the Army has been called out to help fight the COVID-19 virus. Should we expect a similar situation in India?
I would like to emphasise that the Indian Army is of the people and for the people of India. The Indian Army is mandated to provide assistance to civil authorities whenever called for. As of now keeping with the Nation’s requirement, we have established quarantine facilities at Manesar, Jaisalmer and Jodhpur for the evacuees from China, Italy and Iran. Additional four locations have been earmarked for setting up of wellness/ quarantine facilities and preparation is being undertaken. A dedicated and motivated staff is ensuring that the people are taken due care under the supervision of skilled medical authorities. All possible arrangements have been made to make their stay comfortable and memorable. Till now 372 evacuees have been treated at Manesar and currently 82 are under quarantine. At Jaisalmer 484 citizens who were evacuated from Iran are under quarantine and another 277 at Jodhpur.
We are also running awareness campaigns for communities residing in the near vicinity of Army cantonments. Whenever the Government assigns a particular task/ tasks in future, the Indian Army will execute the same to the best of its capability.
What types of contingencies are you expecting in India that the Army needs to be prepared for? For AMC, field units and in other possible ways?
At this juncture, it is difficult to say how the situation will develop. However, after having analysed the impact of COVID-19 over last two-three months in other countries, one can start planning and preparing for difficult times.
The Indian Army has certain inherent capability to rise up to various emergency situations by virtue of organisational structure and training. And in keeping with that, the Indian Army is planning and preparing to fight COVID-19.
Besides the immediate measures to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the Army, what is the planning and preparation being done to help the civil administration in case this crisis worsens?
There is likely to be an increase in demand for medical services for both infected/ suspected cases within the Indian Army as also requisition from civil administration in the coming days. Necessary instructions have been passed to Command Headquarters to augment medical facilities and infrastructure including:
(a) Increasing the capacity for surveillance/ isolation at MH/BH/CH.
(b) All Field Hospitals have been instructed to be ready to set up a 45-bed isolation facility and create 10 bed ICU facility exclusively for COVID-19 at six hours’ notice. Vacant KLPs/ existing infrastructure are earmarked for the same.
(c) Thirty per cent of field hospitals have been kept on standby for constructing COVID hospitals in COVID hotspots.
(d) Responsive and agile Quick Reaction Medical Teams (QRMTs) to be ready to mobilise at six hours’ notice to meet the requirements of the hospitals/ civil administration.
What kind of early warning orders and directions have you passed to the top hierarchy? How often are you reviewing the situation?
I am reviewing the situation on a daily basis. I am in touch with the Army Commanders and PSOs. Various advisories and instructions have been issued to the environment to create awareness and contain spread of COVID-19. Command wise COVID-19 helpline numbers have also been given. Overall, I am satisfied with the planning and preparations undertaken by the Indian Army so far. As I mentioned in my reply to a previous question, six hours’ notice has been given to medical units at different levels.
If there is one thing you would want to say to the people at this point as the Army Chief, what would that be?
Speaking in military language, I would say that at present COVID-19 is in the preparatory stage of impact in India and we are making concerted efforts to prevent COVID-19 from establishing a firm base. Concurrently, we are preparing for stringent countermeasures, should COVID-19 manage to regain a foothold. Next few weeks will be crucial to prevent negative effects of this deadly mutant virus.
The Indian government is taking all precautions and doing the necessary preparations to tackle the outbreak of COVID-19. I would only request my fellow citizens to abide by the instructions given by the Government and help India emerge victorious in the fight against COVID-19.
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