Reacting to the developing situation across the country with regard to the spread of coronavirus, former Northern and Central Army Commander, Lt Gen H S Panag has said that he expects the Army will have to be deployed extensively across the country “on war basis” to ensure an effective lockdown and to organise a systematic fight against the pandemic.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Lt Gen Panag said a voluntary lockdown is never fully effective nor can it be expected to be so. “Total lockdown cannot happen. How is it possible when you say that essential services will be available? When Stage 3 (of spread of the virus on society) manifests itself we can only expect isolation to flatten the curve of the spread of the disease,” he said.
Lt Gen Panag said while the Army may not have plans to deal with such a pandemic ready beforehand, it would have reacted to the situation and charted out a blueprint by now. “We do have plans for flood deployment and aid to civil for law and order prepared well in advance but since there has not been any such epidemic for last 100 years in the country there would not have been readymade plans,” he said.
The former Army Commander said that due to its organisational abilities and the wherewithal and manpower, Army would have to be pressed in not only to help create more isolation shelters but also for potential law and order disturbances like looting etc which may occur within the country due to a prolonged clampdown.
“We have to ensure that people come out less. We should not prepare to tackle phase 3 where we need ventilators and other medical gear. We will have to go in for large scale isolation. If you read about the history of the last epidemic which hit the country in 1918 entire buildings had to be evacuated in Mumbai. Military medical personnel will have to be pressed into service and this isolation will have to be enforced by the Army,” he said.
He said that places where there is acute breakout of the disease, Army will have to be used to contain it. “Army can be used to spread the treatment wherever it is needed. Army will have to be deployed on war basis and it will have to be spread all over the country. This is what we must mentally prepared for,” he said.
Lt Gen Panag said medical students should be commandeered by the Army and they should be spread right across the rural areas of the country. “If you visit a district hospital even on a normal day you do not even get a place to stand there. The Army by the very nature of its organisational skills can bring order into chaos,” he said.
He said the government should have placed companies which manufacture pre-fabricated shelters at notice to supply on an emergency. “The Army can help set up such shelters very fast,” he added.
The former Army Commander also warned that the Army will also have to lookout for inimical elements from across the border who will try to take advantage of this situation. “The Army is deployed extensively in Jammu and Kashmir and you can well imagine the havoc that could be wreaked if an attempt is made to infect the residents of the state and the Army units. If ten people in a unit get the virus then the entire outfit has to be quarantined. Therefore this is a very tough time for the armed forces too,” he said.
Measures announced by Army:
:: Only bare essential offices will function on a daily basis at Army HQs in New Delhi and that work from home to be implemented.
:: Conferences and seminars have been postponed while routine meetings and movements have been restricted.
:: Restricted movements have been ordered in Cantonments and military stations in the 82 districts across the country which are under lockdown.
:: All station CSD canteens have been ordered to be closed forthwith.