New Delhi: From restricting the entry of veterans and essential civil contractual staff, to staggered langar (meal) timings for troops — the Indian military has put in place strict drills to stop coronavirus from getting into its bases.
The drills are being strengthened after the Army reported its first case of COVID-19 — a 34-year-old jawan in Leh. It has quarantined all soldiers and colleagues of the soldier, who is attached to the Ladakh Scouts Regimental Centre.
A senior Army officer had earlier told ThePrint that the Army is dealing with the outbreak in three stages: Prevention within the force, assistance to the civil administration, and planning for contingencies, which may arise if the coronavirus threat reaches the next stage.
Why military is being extra cautious
Military bases can accommodate up to a few thousand personnel and their families, living as a community with close interactions.
Thus, in the eventuality of even a single person contracting COVID-19, the spread is likely to be at a faster rate, not just affecting the community, but also operational preparedness, defence sources told ThePrint.
What the Army is doing
Among the multiple measures being put in place, the Army has restricted retired personnel and any civil porters, contractual maintenance workers or vendors into the garrisons. Many of these civilians work regularly in the garrisons.
“Only bare essential movement from within or outside the garrisons is being permitted. Permissions are only being given on a case-to-case basis,” an Army source told ThePrint.
The Army has extended leaves of its personnel across the country until 15 April, and for the limited troops coming back from leave, temporary duties or courses, sources say there are separate quarantine barracks being created with beds and other basic facilities at the unit level.
The returning personnel will have to undergo a two-layered medical screening at field areas — first at transit and then at the units — after which they will be required to spend two weeks in the quarantine barracks. Every barracks will have about 15 to 25 people.
Additionally, isolation barracks are being created for suspected cases with flu-like symptoms, where they will stay put for two days. If their health doesn’t improve, they will be evacuated.
Meals for the troops will also be served barracks-wise at staggered timings, to avoid crowding. Only one designated person will be serving the troops, according to the missive. Personnel have also been advised to restrict visits to places of worship.
This aside, the Army is setting up multiple hand-washing points, minimising congestion in barracks, shutting down non-essential stores and canteens inside the garrison. It will also display instructions, banners, posters and play of audio messages across the units.
“The initial drills set up are being upgraded in minute details. The essence lies in ruthless implementation of the drills set up,” a senior Army officer said.
The Army has also has set up a mechanism to trace contact history by asking each individual to maintain a daily contact log.
‘Naval dockyards empty’
The Navy, too, is in the process of shutting down offices not considered essential, and enforcing work from home for all officers.
“The men will go into a two-watch system. There will be bare essential manpower required to run the offices,” a senior Navy officer told ThePrint.
The Navy has also restricted the entry of non-uniformed people into dockyards. Since then, the dockyards are virtually empty, given that regular civil staff can’t come in after public transport was stopped, sources say.
Entry of domestic help and guests has also been restricted in the Navy’s residential areas.
Navy personnel who have been on ships deployed in foreign countries will be quarantined for 14 days on return.
“We are still deciding the full modalities of work from home with the security overlays and procedures,” a Navy source said.
Sources in the Indian Air Force say regular briefings are being conducted on the measures to be undertaken by its personnel.
The IAF has also restricted manpower at workplaces to 50 per cent, while the other 50 per cent work from home. It has also directed the Director General Medical Services to work out a disinfection plan for office complexes of Air Headquarters.