Even as Pakistan Army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa was holding a “special” commanders conference in Rawalpindi on the single-point agenda on how to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, 770 miles away, the Indian Army had completed the construction of yet another quarantine centre in Jaisalmer. With this, the Indian Army has created facilities that can accommodate nearly 5000 people in different parts of the country. In contrast, the state of Coronavirus quarantine camps in Pakistan isn’t very encouraging as is evident from reports trickling out of one such facility in Balochistan’s Taftan area.
Predictably, the Pakistan Army has turned the issue of assisting in combatting the COVID-19 into a public relations exercise by making political statements like “Nothing can defeat a responsible and determined nation” and repeating the obvious by saying, “Pakistan Army, being part of national effort, shall serve and protect the nation as a sacred duty.” In sharp contrast, even though the Indian Army didn’t make a big show of its concern on outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic through the charade of high-level conferences or nationalist sloganeering, it has nevertheless been silently and efficiently working overtime in order to ensure availability of hygienic and comfortable facilities to those quarantined.
Here it would be appropriate to clarify that what has been stated above is not intended to belittle the Pakistan Army, or to eulogise the Indian Army- it’s only to highlight that unlike its boisterous counterpart across the Radcliff Line, the Indian Army firmly believes in diligently doing its duty without resorting to theatrics. In fact, there are times when its traditional aversion to undue publicity makes many take the Indian armed forces for granted, but this doesn’t upset our soldiers, sailors or airmen because for them it’s not adulation but the mental satisfaction of having been able to have contributed towards ameliorating the sufferings of their own people is what really matters.
So, let’s leave Rawalpindi to its own devices and instead, focus on the sterling role being played by the Indian armed forces in the nation’s concerted fight against COVID-19.
Besides proving its unmatched prowess in thwarting external aggression, the Indian armed forces have simultaneously displayed their phenomenal ability to successfully overcome fearful odds by ensuring safety, providing medical attention and succour to our countrymen during natural calamities, man-made disasters, unrest and other tragedies. In fact, it’s the tradition of selfless service, deep sense of responsibility and genuine concern for the well being of the people that endears the soldiers, sailors and air men of the Indian armed forces to every Indian.
It’s not that the army’s job will end once they complete construction of quarantine hubs. Au contraire that’s the time when their actual role will start, because the overall responsibility of such centres will be that of the men in uniform. Since there are bound to be confirmed cases of COVID-19 amongst those under quarantine, these facilities will have to be kept under a frequent disinfection and extremely stringent quarantine regime. In addition, since the army will be also providing requisite administrative support to facilitate efficient functioning of these centres, it may be appreciated that soldiers employed here would be working in a potentially hazardous environment!
The Indian Army has already established quarantine centres at Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Kolkata, Chennai, and Manesar, while Indian Air Force (IAF) has done likewise in Dundigal (Hyderabad), Bengaluru, Hindon, Kanpur, Gorakhpur, Jorhat and Jaisalmer. The Indian Navy has established quarantine centres at Kochi, Visakhapatnam and Mumbai and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh has assured the nation that the Indian armed forces will set up more such hubs as per the requirement. The fact that soldiers of the army in Jaisalmer have even vacated their accommodation to make the same available to those being quarantined speaks volumes!
While administering quarantine centres is an onerous responsibility, in J&K and Ladakh, challenges being faced by the army on this account are further accentuated due to remoteness of the area, widely dispersed habitation centres and harsh climatic conditions. For example, while ensuring social distancing as a mandatory norm during quarantine, to be able to provide adequate space as well as effective heating arrangements necessitated by the cold climate in the upper reaches isn’t cost-effective and hence an impractical proposition. Similarly, though establishing quarantine centres near habitation centres would amount to frittering resources, but at the same time those living in isolated areas cannot be left unattended.
Accordingly, quarantine centres for people of J&K and Ladakh would perforce have to be located in areas that have temperate climatic conditions as well as easy accessibility. The Northern Command Headquarters has already established a COVID -19 monitoring hub which is functioning under Command Hospital Udhampur and has four isolation wards a dedicated team of specialist doctors. This centre has all the requisite medical equipment and is geared for round the clock functioning to screen and manage COVID-19 patients.
The army and IAF are working in tandem to ensure that the civil administration is fully geared to combat COVID-19. Based on the requirement projected by Srinagar Municipal Corporation, IAF airlifted 1,200 kilograms of critical sterilization chemicals from Delhi to Srinagar in two Dornier aircrafts while the army organised its delivery at the required sites. COVID-19 screening facility setup by the civil administration at Srinagar airport have been enhanced by providing additional medical teams of the army. Srinagar-based 15 Corps has also established a quarantine hub near the airport and an isolation facility at 92 Base Hospital in Badami Bagh. In addition, personnel of Army Medical Corps are also undergoing combined training programmes being organised under the aegis of WHO.
Plans are also in place to establish more screening centres and quarantine hubs in J&K and Ladakh when civil administration requests for the same and resources have also been earmarked to ensure that no time is wasted in setting up these facilities. At the grass root levels, the army has undertaken an extensive programme to educate locals on the precautionary measures against COVID-19 and the importance of those noticing symptoms to immediately seek medical attention. By laying additional emphasis on removing public apprehension regarding quarantine and advising people to remain calm, refrain from believing in rumours or spreading them and not falling prey to quacks or faith healers, the scope of mass panic erupting has been minimised.
With the armed forces taking all necessary precautions to ensure that quarantine hubs function efficiently and are kept free from the contagion, there’s no cause for undue worry. All we have to do is to act responsibly, fully cooperate with the authorities by strictly adhering to the stipulated ‘do’s and don’ts’ and ensuring that the environment is conducive for doctors and the medical staff to attend to the patients.