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Army offers 8,500 doctors to fight coronavirus

By Ajai Shukla
April 04, 2020 11:10 IST
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The military is 'totally prepared to stand up to the demands made by the government and the people.'
Ajai Shukla reports.

IMAGE: Army medical corps personnel treat an ailing elderly woman in Rajouri, Jammu and Kashmir, March 31, 2020. Photograph: Nazim Ali/ANI Photo
 

With the national effort against the coronavirus pandemic being increasingly enunciated in the rhetoric of a 'war', the ministry of defence announced on Friday the deployment of additional military medical and logistics resources to aid government health authorities.

The MoD said that, in addition to six quarantine facilities the armed forces have already established at Mumbai, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Hindon, Manesar and Chennai, the military will make available 'high dependency unit' and 'intensive care unit' beds in 51 armed forces hospitals across the country.

'Some of these facilities are located at Kolkata, Visakhapatnam, Kochi, Dundigal near Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Kanpur, Jaisalmer, Jorhat and Gorakhpur,' the MoD said on Friday.

In addition, '15 other facilities are being kept ready as standby for use, if required,' the defence ministry added.

Together, these have beds for about 15,000 COVID-19 patients. Army chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane has offered more than 8,500 doctors and support staff to assist the anti-coronavirus effort.

As coronavirus testing picks up momentum, five viral testing labs at armed forces hospitals, which are equipped to carry out coronavirus testing, have been made part of the national grid.

'These include the Army Hospital (Research & Referral), Delhi; Air Force Command Hospital, Bangalore; Armed Forces Medical College, Pune; Command Hospital, Lucknow and Command Hospital, Udhampur. Six more hospitals are being equipped shortly with the resources to begin coronavirus testing,' the defence ministry stated.

The armed forces have already handled 1,737 patients at the quarantine centres already functioning. Of these, 403 have been released while three positive cases -- two from Hindan and one from Manesar -- were referred to Safdarjung Hospital in New Delhi for further treatment.

Besides the military's primary function to safeguard India's territorial integrity, it also has a secondary role 'in aid to the civil authority'.

Besides restoring law and order and civilian control in flashpoints like Jammu and Kashmir, this requires the military to assist in controlling natural disasters and pandemics, when called upon by the government;

The military is 'totally prepared to stand up to the demands made by the government and the people,' Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat told the media.

General Rawat has also offered to allow the use of military school premises -- currently closed due to the lockdown, and subsequently the summer vacation -- as quarantine centres for persons who have been exposed to the virus.

The Indian Air Force has mobilised its aircraft fleet for transporting essential supplies, medicines and medical equipment.

'So far, approximately 60 tonnes of stores have been airlifted to various parts of the country. 28 fixed wing aircraft and 21 helicopters are on standby at various locations across the country,' the defence ministry said.

Meanwhile, special IAF flights have evacuated Indian citizens and transported over 25 tonnes of medical supplies.

'A C-17 Globemaster III comprising of crew, medical team and support staff has carried 15 tonnes of medical supplies to China and airlifted 125 persons, comprising Indian nationals and few citizens from friendly countries on its return,' the defence ministry said.

An IAF C-17 Globemaster III has also flown to Iran and brought back 58 stranded Indians, along with 529 samples for COVID-19 testing.

Continuing India's tradition of assisting small Indian Ocean countries, a C-130J Super Hercules aircraft flew to the Maldives with 6.2 tonnes of medicines.

'An Army Medical Corps team consisted of five doctors, two nursing officers and seven paramedics was deployed in the Maldives for capacity building measures and assistance and in setting up their own testing, treatment and quarantine facilities between March 13-21,' the defence ministry stated.

The navy has readied six warships for assisting littoral neighbours. In addition, five naval medical teams are on standby for deployment in the Maldives, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, the Defence R&D Organisation has developed a five-layered nanotechnology face mask (called N99) and is ramping up per day production to 20,000 masks.

DRDO is also engaged in modifying ventilators so that one machine can support four patients at the same time.

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Ajai Shukla in New Delhi
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