IAF intensifies efforts for relief as govt asks military to render maximum help

Updated on Apr 24, 2021 10:17 PM IST

The DRDO is among the organisations that are at the forefront of fighting the second deadly wave of Covid-19 that has ripped through the country. It has so far set up or is in the process of setting up state-of-the-art Covid-19 hospitals in six cities to treat more than 3,100 critical patients.

IAF aircraft also flew empty oxygen containers from Hindon and Bhopal to Ranchi. The containers will be filled up and transported to different centres for Covid-19 relief by rail or road. (IAF)
IAF aircraft also flew empty oxygen containers from Hindon and Bhopal to Ranchi. The containers will be filled up and transported to different centres for Covid-19 relief by rail or road. (IAF)

In the midst of the unrelenting spread of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) across the country and a frightening shortage of oxygen, hospital beds and medicines, the Indian Air Force on Saturday intensified its efforts for Covid-19 relief with its transport aircraft ferrying large oxygen containers to filling stations in different parts of the country even as defence minister Rajnath Singh directed the military and other wings of his ministry to extend all possible assistance to the civilian administration to tide over the current situation.

Among the many sorties that the IAF undertook on Saturday was a C-17 Globemaster III transport aircraft that flew from the Hindon airbase outside Delhi to Singapore’s Changi International Airport and returned to Panagarh in West Bengal with four cryogenic oxygen containers, the IAF said.

Another C-17 took off from Hindon to Pune where it was loaded with two empty cryogenic oxygen container trucks which were then flown to Jamnagar air base, and the same aircraft carried out a second shuttle from Pune to Jamnagar with two more empty containers, the IAF said in a statement, adding that a third C-17 was deployed to ferry two empty containers from Jodhpur to Jamnagar.

IAF aircraft also flew empty oxygen containers from Hindon and Bhopal to Ranchi.

The containers will be filled up and transported to different centres for Covid-19 relief by rail or road. India also plans to airlift oxygen containers from the United Arab Emirates.

The last two days have seen the air force carry out several sorties to airlift oxygen containers, cylinders, essential medicines and equipment required for setting up and sustaining Covid-19 hospitals and facilities to deal with the surge in infections. The IAF is using a variety of aircraft for Covid-19 relief work including C-17, C-130J, IL-76, An-32, Avro, Chinook and Mi-17 helicopters, as previously reported by Hindustan Times.

“One IAF Chinook helicopter and an An-32 transport aircraft took Covid-19 testing equipment from Jammu to Leh and from Jammu to Kargil (on Saturday), respectively. The equipment consisted of bio-safety cabinets, centrifuges and stabilisers. These machines have been made by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and now given to UT of Ladakh to enhance testing,” the statement said.

With India reeling under a public health emergency and its health resources at breaking point, the defence minister on Saturday chaired a meeting of top officials including the chief of defence staff to review the efforts of the ministry and the armed forces to fight the Covid-19 crisis.

The armed forces and the defence ministry “will leave no stone unturned in providing all possible assistance to the civilian administration,” Singh later wrote on Twitter.

During the review meeting, Singh was told by the navy that its warships have been kept on standby for moving oxygen tankers, the defence ministry said in a statement.

The minister was also informed that an extra 250 ICU beds will be functional at the DRDO Covid facility in Delhi by Saturday evening taking the total number of beds to 500.

The defence ministry said that compared to last year, the Armed Forces Medical Services (AFMS) has deployed more medical staff, including specialists, super specialists and paramedics, at DRDO’s Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Covid-19 hospital to cater to the current surge in infections.

“As against 294 doctors and health workers in 2020, 378 have been mobilised in 2021. These include 164 doctors in 2021 as against 132 doctors in 2020. Last year, only 18 specialists were mobilised, as against 43 specialists and 17 super specialists this year,” the defence ministry said in another statement. .

The highly skilled specialists and super specialists have been deployed at the facility after being drawn from already-stretched service hospitals, it said. The number of critical patients admitted in 2021 is more than eight times compared to last year’s worst peak, the statement said.

The DRDO is among the organisations that are at the forefront of fighting the second deadly wave of Covid-19 that has ripped through the country. It has so far set up or is in the process of setting up state-of-the-art Covid-19 hospitals in six cities to treat more than 3,100 critical patients. The DRDO has set up a 500-bed hospital in Delhi, a 1,000-bed hospital in Ahmedabad and converted an ESIC hospital into a 500-bed Covid-19 facility in Patna. In addition, hospitals with 450 beds in Lucknow and 750 beds in Varanasi are expected to be functional soon. A sixth Covid-19 hospital is being readied in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur.

These hospitals would be operated by the AFMS in coordination with the state governments.

The armed forces and other wings of the defence ministry can play an important role in the fight against Covid-19, said Lieutenant General BK Chopra (retd), a former directed general of AFMS said on Thursday.

“They have the manpower, resources and discipline to provide relief in these hard times. The military especially has a culture of quick response, be it enemy action or natural catastrophes. It can do a lot to alleviate the sufferings of our countrymen during the pandemic too,” Chopra said.

The AFMS is importing mobile oxygen generation plants from Germany to address the oxygen crisis precipitated by the second wave of the pandemic. It is importing 23 such plants that are expected to arrive in a week.

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