Army Chief Gen M.M. Naravane spoke to Ashish Singh, Editor, Strategic Affairs, ITV Network, on the preparedness of the armed forces against coronavirus pandemic.
Q: How is Indian Army preparing for the war against corona?
A: It is definitely a battle against coronavirus. We have been involved in it right from the beginning. Right from the time when the first inputs started coming that coronavirus had started affecting the people, especially our students who were in Wuhan. They were the first to be evacuated and for them, we had created the first facility at Manesar in the first week of February and the first lot came there. After that almost 200 boys and girls who had come after spending their mandatory quarantine period, they were sent home and then the other batches also started coming in. So, we have been involved in this right from the beginning.
As for the magnitude of this threat, coronavirus has spread worldwide and it’s not confined to one or two regions. As its magnitude became apparent, we also started developing facilities for quarantine and isolation in other parts of the country. We started with Jaisalmer and thereafter we also made some facilities at Jodhpur base.
Q: How ready are the Indian Navy and the Air Force for the Covid-19 challenge?
A: The Indian Air Force and the Navy have also made their facilities in other parts of the country, such as Visakhapatnam and Kochi. We have also diversified to other parts of the county, whereas we were first focusing in Delhi region and some areas of Rajasthan. The Jaisalmer facility also got a share of evacuees, mainly from Iran. We kept them in our Army accommodation. We had some accommodations which were newly constructed, so rather than moving into the new place we had decided to set it up as a quarantine facility. It was ideally suited for it being in quadrangle construction with space in the middle to move around and have some recreation facility inside, besides being easy to manage.
I am glad to say that all the people in these facilities are fit and fine; they have been cooperating well. They have been adjusting to this situation. They have also risen to the occasion. In case the situation worsens and we start getting more cases, which are now homegrown domestic cases, we will have more such facilities. We have also kept our military hospitals, base hospitals, command hospitals with increased facilities.
Q: Will these military facilities be fully accessible to civilians?
A: In this fight against corona, all of us will have to work together. The civil administration, the facilities for healthcare in civil as well as what we have in the Army. What we are doing is ramping up Army facilities and making them fully functional so that should the necessity arise then we will able to use them also. Not only for Army personal but for the greater population at large. Apart from this, we have our field hospitals which are mobile. Which are used during war time. They have also been put on standby. They have facility to create a 45-bed mobile hospital which can move quickly at a short notice from place to place and that’s how we will be able to move and establish this kind of medical facilities at places where it is required. We are also looking at quick reaction medical teams which can go to likely hotspots and contain the situation at that particular location itself rather than moving people to the established hospitals.
Q: Any name given for this operation by the Army?
A: Internally, we are calling it Op ‘NAMASTE’. I think with this virus the whole world has learnt that namaste is the best form of greeting. It has been gaining worldwide acceptance, so I thought it is good name to give.
Q: How is the Army protecting its own men and women, its own internal structure? Also, how is the situation along the LoC and LAC?
A: Right from the beginning, force protection has been our number one priority — that is, to keep yourself safe and free from any infection. Force protection had been priority because we needed to be operation-ready to guard the borders and other threats and it was possible only if we were fit. Only in that case, we will be able to protect ourselves and help our fellow countrymen when we are called by the authorities. This has always been our focus area right from the beginning and we have been making sure that we had put in some measures especially in regard to the people coming from leave. We were making sure that they didn’t mix with complete unit in one go. Anyone coming from leave was isolated in a separate barrack and only after full screening he/she was allowed to rejoin the unit and participate in unit activities, training, PT and other routine affairs. I think because of these measures we have been doing good. From the very beginning we have been able to ensure that we do not have any major Covid-19 outbreak in our units. There has been no drop in our operational preparedness. We are manning the borders in full strength, as we were doing earlier.