Up in arms against a pandemic: How Indian Armed forces dedicated themselves to fighting Covid-19

Article by Sakshi Tiwari

Disease, disaster or riot, Indian Armed Forces have always been at the forefront becoming the first line of defence in case of an eventuality other than dealing with external aggression. When the country is in distress and the states have explored all avenues and exhausted all resources, the armed forces are pitched in and the men in uniform come to the succour of the country in general and its people in particular. However, this time the enemy is an invisible one, moving at a speed never witnessed before and practically putting millions of lives in peril.

Coronavirus, also known as Covid-19, first appeared in China in December and little over two months into 2020, it has taken shape of a pandemic with about 353,905 cases and about 15,420 deaths reported worldwide so far. The virus arrived in India towards the end of January and has affected more than 400 people and killed 8. The State has been proactive ever since the first case was reported, making efforts on a war footing. On the day of the janta Curfew called by the PM Modi, people expressed gratitude to the doctors and other medical staff in the forefront fighting the virus.

Those being rescued from Iran, being given masks as they enter C-17 Globemaster by an Airforce personnel
Indian Navy rescued 44 pilgrims stuck in Iran who were refused to be tested by Iranian govt

However, apart from the health care providers, there are other heroes silently doing their duty in the time of a pandemic. The Indian Military has been at the forefront by airlifting Indian nationals from affected countries to actually creating and managing quarantine facilities for the evacuees. Air Force’s largest transport aircraft, the C-17 Globemaster was used to evacuate Indians as has been on many occasions before. As a goodwill gesture, they also evacuated nationals of friendly countries. Fully functional quarantine facilities have been established by the military that can hold about 5000 people all over the country out of which, the Army alone has the capacity for 4000. Apart from already operational quarantine facility at Manesar with a capacity of 300, it has successfully established new ones in Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Jhansi, Binnaguri and Gaya in record time. The Command headquarters have personally overseen supervision so that the people flowing in from different parts of the world could be accommodated and taken care for a period of 2 weeks which is the incubation period of the virus. If tested positive for the novel coronavirus, they are shifted to isolation ward in a designated hospital. If they show no symptom at the end of 14 days, they are let off and their detailed documentation sent totheir respective state/district for further surveillance. Such is the due diligence practiced by the forces.

Indian Airfoce personnel who went to Iran to rescue Indian pilgrims, C-17 globemaster in the background

As per some sources, the Indian Army is spending a whopping 3.5 lakh per day in running the facilities. Many serving personnel have been directed to cater to them which puts them in the way of the virus. Not just this, all movement of army men and women have been restricted and their leaves have been cancelled. All recruitment rallies have been suspended and the rank and files have been given strict instructions. While most of the nation has closed down and people have returned to their home towns, the army personnel have been strictly advised to stay put wherever they are. Only the administrative staff of the military has been asked to work from home with a 50% rotation on a weekly basis. While people continue to stay inside their homes and roads wear a deserted look in the wake of a deadly virus, the Army continues to lead from the front.

Maneswar camp run by Indian Army where Indian students rescued from China were under quarantine

As the country grapples with a health emergency with the number of cases increasing every day, the state has started to look towards the Armed Forces Medical College and the Army doctors and nurses. In case, the virus implodes in the country and we enter the stage of community transmission, we will be staring at a very overwhelmed medical infrastructure and health care service. The only ray of hope shall be the Army and its capacity to operationalise a large field hospital and the mobilise the Army doctors, nurses and paramedic staff.

The expertise of the army doctors that have experience of working in difficult situations shall come in handy. Since the army has already proved its mettle by setting up quarantine facilities out of pre-existing accommodations in a few days span, it will further be looked upon to create isolation wards and hospitals if the need arises.

The fact that the Army has also moved up a few notches in terms of communications and logistics can be effectively used for the purpose of humongous contact tracing and distributing food as it has on multiple occasions of natural disasters. Even though it is unlikely but the army might be needed to control crowds if a complete breakdown of law machinery happens in an event of a widespread virus or when fear grips the country as was seen in Italy. The Police force will need the support of the Central Reserve Police Force and the Army to put the house in order and stop people from going berserk.

The Army has fielded those heroes in this fight that have jumped into action without any recognition and history will fondly remember them for doing

‘Service before self.’

The author, Sakshi Tiwari is a journalist. Studying Defence and National Security from Punjab University. Areas of expertise- Defence, International  and Geostrategic Relations.

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