The Indian military has kept nearly a dozen quarantine centres on standby, while the Army has issued a new set of guidelines and stated that it is keeping resources ready for the government to tackle the coronavirus pandemic.
According to a Defence Ministry statement Wednesday, 11 quarantine facilities have been set up by the armed forces across the country and could be made operational in the next 72 hours, if needed.
Four quarantine facilities are operational at present — the Army’s Manesar and Jaisalmer facilities, the IAF’s Hindan facility and the Navy’s Mumbai facility.
The Army, meanwhile, issued fresh guidelines earlier this week, in which it stated that location of a quarantine facility should be far away from where troops are stationed, healthcare facilities and other densely populated areas, sources said.
It also emphasised on cleanliness of the quarantine camps, a well-briefed medical staff and also asked its personnel to use personal protective equipment, such as gloves, masks, gowns, goggles, etc., wisely due to their limited availability.
According to sources, the arrangement of a quarantine facility would be for 30 days, but could get extended too.
The guidelines also stated every camp would have a 10 to 12-member medical team and an ambulance on standby for 24 hours and should have the wherewithal to collect and send out samples for COVID-19 tests, as and when required.
Army sources said the force will also have to keep Quick Response Medical Teams (QRMTs) at different locations for emergencies.
A senior Army officer said the Army is dealing with the outbreak in three stages, which are prevention within the force, assistance to the civil administration and planning for contingencies, which may arise if the coronavirus threat reaches the next stage.
Leaves of Army personnel to be withheld
Sources in the Army said leaves of personnel will be withheld unless there is an emergency and those returning from leaves from coronavirus-hit areas or with an international travel history should be screened or quarantined.
In the last few weeks, the Indian military has been working to ensure that adequate facilities are being set up to quarantine suspected coronavirus patients, with the Army, Navy, Indian Air Force (IAF) suspending non-essential training and movement until further notice, along with foreign work travel.
The Army has cancelled all its training activities and courses, such as the sub-unit training cycles, war games and all scheduled courses in various training establishments as well as postponed relatively less essential mass gatherings such as festivals, welfare activities and public functions to minimise movement and contain the spread of the infection.
The Army’s quarantine facilities in Manesar, Jaisalmer and Jodhpur has a a total capacity of 1,600. The Jodhpur facility is one of the 11 quarantine centres.
The Army is incurring an expenditure of Rs 3.5 lakh daily for running the Manesar facility alone.
“Nearly two battalion strength of troops have vacated their barracks in Jaisalmer to accommodate people suspected of having contracted coronavirus,” an Army officer said.
So far, 372 evacuees have been treated at Manesar and 82 are under quarantine at present, the Army said.
After the Army reported its first case of coronavirus — a 34-year-old jawan in Leh — it quarantined all soldiers and colleagues of the jawan, who is attached to the Ladakh Scouts Regimental Centre in Leh.
The Navy has also set up a quarantine facility at INS Vishwakarma in Visakhapatnam, which can accommodate 200 people. This facility is also one of the 11 quarantine centres.
The Navy’s Ghatkopar quarantine facility in Mumbai had housed 44 evacuated Indian citizens from Iran.
A third quarantine facility is being set up by the Navy at Kochi, which is almost on the verge of completion, sources said.
The Navy had also postponed its largest-ever multilateral naval exercise, Milan, involving over 30 countries due to the coronavirus threat.
Earlier this month, the IAF had sent its transport aircraft C-17 to Iran to evacuate 58 Indian citizens.
On 26 February, the IAF evacuated 112 passengers from Hubei province in China. Among them, 76 were Indian citizens. The other nationals included those from Myanmar, Bangladesh, Maldives, China, the US, Madagascar and South Africa. The flight also carried essential medical supplies to China.
Other countries too have roped in their military
In France, the government ordered the Army to begin using its ‘Morphée system’.
This involves military transport planes that are equipped with intensive care units and are used to evacuate troops from conflict zones.
In Jordan, where a lockdown was announced Wednesday, Army troops have been deployed at the entry and exit points of cities as part of its measures against the coronavirus.
The US military has also stepped in to fight the growing number of coronavirus cases, with 22 states having already activated their state National Guard and deployment of two Navy hospital ships on each of the country’s coasts, among other measures.