India’s chief of defence staff (CDS), General Bipin Rawat, tasked to synergise the functioning of India’s three armed services, is now on top of a plan to deal with the coronavirus battle domestically and in the immediate neighbourhood.
“Our aircraft and doctors are one call away, and can be rushed to any country in the neighbourhood. Within the country, we have readied 10,000 beds for quarantine [in military facilities] and can also quickly set up isolation wards,” Rawat said in an exclusive interview.
The single-point military adviser to the government who is responsible for setting up critical tri-service theatre commands to enhance the country’s conventional warfare preparedness is now part of daily meetings on tackling Covid-19, a disease that has infected 226,000 and killed over 9,250 around the world. In India, it has so far infected 173 (including some foreigners) and killed four.
Rawat is part of the daily conferences convened by Union health minister Harsh Vardhan and cabinet secretary Rajiv Gauba. “We have facilities and structures. The armed forces, be it the army, navy or the air force, have always lent their shoulder to disasters. We will be letting the nation down if we don’t step in,” he said.
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All services have issued advisories to their rank and file on dealing with the disease, and Rawat said that he had advised the service chiefs to sanction more leaves. “Those already on leave in rural areas are being encouraged to extend their leaves,” the CDS said, adding that the disease is currently primarily being reported from metros and large cities.
In Leh, where an army soldier tested positive for Covid-19, commanders have been told to allow leaves beyond the sanctioned 25% (of strength) mark.
The services have already halted all celebrations and training programmes. The army has asked its formations to avoid all non-essential mass gatherings, including festivals, welfare activities and public gatherings. It sent out an advisory on March 13 urging all military establishments to avoid gatherings because of the growing fear over the spread of coronavirus.
A list of service hospitals where patients can be isolated and treated have been shared with the government.
“Since we have stopped training programmes and are discouraging conferences and meeting, a lot of the work has slowed down. The same personnel will now help deal with the virus. Our preparedness will not suffer,” said Rawat, reiterating that India’s armed forces are “battle-ready” and can even respond to a call from a neighbouring country. “Our planes are ready and so are our doctors.”