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Armed Forces and military assets adequately protected from coronavirus: Rajnath

NEW DELHI (PTI): The fight against coronavirus pandemic is the "biggest invisible war" facing humanity and India is confronting it with excellent synergy among all key organs of the nation, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said on Sunday, April 19, 2020.

In an interview to PTI, Singh said a wide spectrum of measures has been put in place to insulate the three services and their strategic assets from the deadly infection while keeping them fully prepared to deal with any possible threats including along the borders.

Singh, who is also heading a Group of Ministers on COVID-19, said well-thought-out protocols are being implemented aggressively to keep the forces "fighting fit" across all three domains air, land and sea – besides helping the country dealing with the pandemic.

"The fight against COVID-19 is possibly the biggest invisible war in our lifetime; a war against humanity and having various impact on health and economic security of the nation. We as a nation are fighting the crisis on a war footing," he said.

The Defence Minister also dispelled apprehensions that the pandemic may have impacted India's operational preparedness, adding there was no reason to worry about health and overall well-being of the forces.

His assertion came amid calls for putting in place stricter safety norms to insulate the 15 lakh-strong Armed Forces from coronavirus after 26 sailors at the strategically crucial Western Naval Command tested positive, in first case of major outbreak of the infection in the military.

"The Indian Armed Forces are prepared for all contingencies and I can assure you that we are prepared to defend our sovereignty from adversarial forces in all scenarios in land, air and sea," he said.

To emphasise operational preparedness of the military, Singh said the Indian Army is carrying out "targeted strikes" on terror launch pads along the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir and eliminating Pakistani infiltrators.

The Defence Minister said expertise of armed forces in communications, supply chain management, medical support and engineering are being used to combat the pandemic in the country besides extending a helping hand to several friendly nations.

"There is excellent synergy between all organs of the government and the services are geared to deal with any challenge arising out of the current situation," the Minister said.

Singh said Armed Forces are taking a series of measures like curtailing movement of troops, restricting leave, enforcing work from home, maintaining social distancing and decontamination of barracks as preventive measures.

"A mandatory 14-day quarantine period is being enforced for all personnel, if coming from outside their stations, irrespective of rank. In case of ships, strict monitoring of all sailors is being done and disembarkation at foreign ports is being authorised only in emergencies," he added.

He said special precautions are being followed at ships and submarines where it is difficult to strictly follow social distancing norms.

"Every rank has been told to maintain a contact diary on a daily basis. All collective training has been stopped. Barring a few essential branches such as operations and intelligence, personnel from all other branches have been directed to work from home," he said.

Soldiers deployed along borders, especially in remotest regions, are safest as they are cut-off from all likely carriers of disease, he said adding the Government is ensuring their safety by deploying fresh troops in the areas who have been medically validated as having no symptoms of the infection.

"In my opinion, with the kind of discipline within the forces, the risk of spread of infection is very low. However we are prepared for all contingencies," Singh said.

"In battling such an outbreak, the forces primarily have to be fighting fit. Services are strictly adhering to all instructions and guidelines being disseminated by PMO, Ministry of Health and our own medical authorities," he added.

The Minister also said that the Government has directed leading Defence Public Sector Undertakings to produce medical equipment like ventilators, masks, Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) and other equipment to address the problem of their shortages.

"The activities undertaken to fight the COVID-19 pandemic are part of ministry level coordinated action plan. All three services are working in sync under the common guidelines and directions promulgated by the Chief of Defence Staff," said Singh.

"The latent medical capacity of the armed forces as also the geographical disposition of medical manpower and resources has facilitated in rendering prompt assistance to civil authority and to check the virus spread in the Armed Forces fraternity," he said.

The Defence Minister said the Armed Forces are also focusing on creating additional quarantine zones and establishing new medical facilities as well as laboratories as part of overall efforts to deal with the situation.

"The medical authorities within the Armed Forces have already dedicated 19 hospitals and 4,182 ICU beds for COVID-19 patients both for personnel as well as civilians. Additional 31 hospitals and 4,856 ICU beds are ready to be converted for taking on more cases," he added.

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