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WHO has declared it as a pandemic. It has hit even the developed nations very ferociously, leaving them to struggle to cope up with it. The first COVID-19 case in India was found on 30th January 2020. It was reported in an Indian student returning from China to Thrissur, Kerala. As of 16 May 2020, there are a total of 85,940 cases with 30,152 recoveries and 2752 deaths. The Indian government has been proactive in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic by enforcing nationwide lockdown since 25th March 2020.
The armed forces have also been an integral part of the response to this unprecedented biologic calamity.
All the three forces, Indian Army, Navy and Airforce have been working actively with the stakeholders including the Armed Forces Medical Services (AFMS), Defence Research and Development organization (DRDO), Defence Public Sector Undertakings, Ordinance Factory Board, Indian Coast Guard, Cantonment Boards, and the National Cadet Corps. The first two missions of the Armed forces were to evacuate the Indians stranded in the foreign countries which had become the hotspot of COVID-19.
On 27 Feb 2020, 112 citizens of India and friendly countries were brought back to our country from Wuhan, China in C-17 Globemaster. Also on 10 March 2020, 56 Indians were flown back to our country from Tehran.
The evacuated people had been quarantined at the six quarantine centers set up by the Armed forces. These quarantine centers are Manesar, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Chennai, Hindan and Mumbai. There are seven other Airforce quarantine facilities in Bhatinda, Devlali, Dundigal, Chakeri, Agra, Gorakhpur and Bangalore that have been kept in readiness state.
The Indian Navy also has established quarantine centres at Visakhapatnam and Kochi. Under operation Namaste, Indian brought back from Iran had been kept at an Army Wellness Centre in Jodhpur. All these centres provide holistic medical facilities along with mental and physical care.
For a response to the pandemic, the backbone of Armed Forces is the Armed Forces Medical Services (AFMS). AFMS has 8,500 doctors, 50,000 paramedical personnel and a vast infrastructure, all of which has been put for the service of the nation. Also 28 service hospitals have been reserved for coronavirus cases. These hospitals will take care of military personnel as well as civilian patients transferred from state health facilities. In 51 service hospitals, High Dependency Care Units(HDUs) and Intensive Care Units(ICUs) are getting ready to receive patients. Quick-reaction medical teams (QRMTs) and Battle Field Nursing Assistants (BFNA) are also ready for augmenting the resources wherever it is needed.
Testing for CoronaVirus has been started by the five Armed Forces hospitals such as Army Hospital Research and Referral, Delhi and Armed Forces Medical College, Pune. Using heavy-lift transport aircraft, Indian Airforce has transported men and material to the remotest locations of our country. Contribution of 500 crore has been done to the PM-CARES fund by giving one day salary by all the men in uniform. 25000 cadets of the National Cadet Corps (NCC) are assisting the civil administration in the following:
Indian government had put up a massive evacuation plan in order to bring back Indian nationals who were stranded in other countries as a result of COVID-19 pandemic. Lacs of Indian nationals who reside or work in other countries and those who had been on a tourist visit to other countries have been stranded as a result of pandemic and lockdown and they were desperate to get back to India as they were under a lot of distress. As a result of this humanitarian crisis, Indian embassies in High commissions abroad and the Ministry of External Affairs in India started receiving thousands of requests for emergency evacuation. But organising such a massive evacuation plan involving thousands and lakhs of people from multiple countries brings up a set of logistical challenges such as:
Evacuation through the sea route is being carried out by Indian Navy under the mission name “Samudra Setu”. As part of this mission, the Indian Navy had deployed four of its largest naval ships on their route to Maldives and UAE. INS Jalashwa which is the second-largest combat ship of the Indian Navy after INS Vikramaditya is capable of carrying thousand people on board and it was deployed to Maldives with INS Magar. INS Magar is a large amphibian ship. It is a landing ship tank and it can accommodate close to 500 people on board. Similar to INS Magar, INS Shardul and INS Airavat are large amphibian ships that can act as landing ship tanks and accommodate more than 500 people and these two ships were deployed to UAE.
6.5 tons of medical supplies and equipment were airlifted to Maldives by Indian Airforce as part of the operation “Sanjeevani”. In the countries like Spain, France, Switzerland and Italy where borders were temporarily reintroduced, soldiers helped the police in controlling the border. Helicopters and foot soldiers were used by Switzerland Army to monitor the borders. For the enforcement of lockdown in many countries, military was deployed. Street patrolling was done in quarantine areas by them, also they had persuaded people to stay inside homes and imposed social distancing. Another aspect of the military’s role in fight against COVID-19 is to share the burden of overloaded healthcare systems. Military hospitals has been used for this purpose. Military medical staff was also involved in testing for the coronavirus.
For helping the hospitals overloaded with the patients, US had sent two navy hospital ships to New York and Los Angeles. Italian Airforce had transported medical equipment for the civilian’s protection and to support hospitals logistacally. In Italy, military also transported dead bodies to the burial grounds, delivered meals to the lockdown areas via helicopter. Indian Armed forces should also provide logistical support to civilian authorities in transportation of stranded migrant workers. They should also help in distribution of food and essential items to remote areas using helicopters wherever it is required. Borders also should be monitored very carefully so that Corona infected militants or other country’s citizens do not enter in territory of India.
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