Ringing alarm bells for the military brass, 26 Indian Navy personnel have tested positive for coronavirus at the strategically-located Western Naval Command in Mumbai, in the first case of a major outbreak of the deadly infection in the armed forces.
All the infected sailors were staying at a bachelors' residential block at the INS Angre, a shore-based logistics and support establishment, just few hundred metres away from the main Naval dockyard housing a range of frontline warships and submarines of the force.
'The 26 sailors who were placed in isolation after testing positive for COVID-19 at Mumbai, belong to INS Angre, a shore establishment. There has so far not been a single case of COVID-19 onboard any ship, submarine or air station of the Indian Navy,' the Indian Navy said in a statement.
As the outbreak triggered serious concerns, the Navy launched a large-scale contact tracing operation to track people who may have come in touch with the sailors.
Almost all the residents of the residential building inside INS Angre are being tested for any possible infection, the sources said.
Swab samples of 130 people living in the residential block were sent for testing out of which results of only 60 have come.
The positive cases were out of the 60 samples, the sources said adding the number of positive cases may go up once results of remaining samples come.
The infected sailors are currently undergoing treatment at INHS Ashwini, a naval hospital in Mumbai.
'The Indian Navy is committed to containing the spread of the infection to the maximum extent possible and remains operationally prepared as always, to meet any challenges in the maritime domain,' the Navy said.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and top military brass were briefed about the outbreak and they are keeping a close eye on the situation, the sources said.
The Western Naval Command is considered a strategic establishment as it takes care of India's maritime interests in the Arabian Sea as well as parts of the Indian Ocean.
'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 Indian Ocean Region,' the Navy said.
It said the detection of coronavirus cases was result of its 'meticulous' contact tracing and 'aggressive' screening as well as testing of people after one sailor tested positive on April 7.
'All these sailors continue to remain asymptomatic and are being monitored at INHS Asvini, under the care of the best medical professionals. Since the sailor was tested positive for COVID-19, the entire premises of the unit have been sealed off,' it said.
It said containment zones and buffer areas have been designated and frequent disinfection continues to be carried out to contain spread by breaking the chain of transmission.
'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,' it said.
The outbreak of the infection comes at a time when a number of navies globally are grappling with the pandemic.
Over 660 sailors onboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt, an aircraft carrier of the US Navy, reported coronavirus infection. A third of the nearly 2,000 sailors onboard French Navy's aircraft carrier Charles-de-Gaulle and its support ships also infected the virus.
The sources said the infected personnel were staying in room accommodation and barracks within INS Angre complex.
In its statement, the Navy said all missions for coastal and offshore security continue as before.
'Operational units are being maintained in readiness by following a 14 day quarantine routine to meet immediate contingencies, including assistance to civil authorities and friendly maritime neighbours,' it said.
Sources said the Navy has ordered all its establishments to maintain highest precaution to protect the personnel from the virus infection.
It is the first case of a sizeable number of military personnel being treated for COVID-19. The Indian Army has reported eight cases of the deadly virus so far.
Last week, Navy Chief Admiral Karambir Singh, in a video message, told his personnel that vital operational assets such as ships and submarines must remain free from the virus.
'The coronavirus pandemic is unprecedented and it has never been seen before. Its impact has been extraordinary across the globe, including India,' he said.
The danger posed by this disease is real, imminent and unprecedented, he noted.