Military, defence wings go in overdrive for Covid relief
As India reels under an unprecedented public health emergency, its hospitals stretched thin by a staggering number of Covid cases and deaths due to scarcity of beds, oxygen and medicines, the military and other wings of the defence ministry have been ordered to respond on war footing to fight the outbreak that has so far claimed nearly 185,000 lives, people familiar with the developments said on Thursday.
From setting up Covid hospitals to ramping up oxygen production and airlifting of medical staff and oxygen containers to liaising with state governments to help them deal with the rising number of daily cases, the armed forces, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and defence public sector undertakings (DPSUs) are working overtime for Covid relief, said one of the people cited above.
As many as 15,924,697 confirmed infections and 184,693 deaths (as of Wednesday) have been reported across the country since the pandemic began, according to HT’s dashboard. The most worrying factor right now is how fast daily cases are multiplying, and how the trajectory is showing no clear signs of approaching a peak.
The DRDO is among the organisations that are at the forefront of fighting the second deadly wave of Covid 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 hospitals in six cities to treat more than 3,100 critical patients, said a second official.
The DRDO has set up a 500-bed hospital in Delhi and converted an ESIC hospital into a 500-bed Covid facility in Patna. In addition, hospitals with 450 beds in Lucknow, 750 beds in Varanasi and 900 beds in Ahmedabad are expected to be functional soon. A sixth Covid hospital is being readied in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur.
The DRDO has also stepped in to address the oxygen crisis precipitated by the second wave of the disease. It has transferred oxygen generation technology to the industry, which has now started providing oxygen plants to state governments and hospitals, the official said. The Uttar Pradesh government, for instance, has ordered five such plants from Coimbatore-based Trident Pneumatics.
The technology transferred to the industry is based on the onboard oxygen generation technology developed for the Tejas light combat aircraft. The oxygen generation plants can produce 1,000 litres of oxygen per minute. “More plants can be supplied by the industry to cater to the hospital requirements pan-India,” the official said.
The DPSUs are also making arrangements to buy oxygen plants for the production and supply of oxygen cylinders at a swift pace.
Technology developed by the DRDO for a supplemental oxygen delivery system for soldiers posted in high-altitude areas has also been transferred to the industry, and it will soon be available in the market for use by Covid patients.
The Indian Air Force has deployed its aircraft for airlifting medical personnel, oxygen containers, oxygen cylinders, trolleys and essential medicines, an IAF official said.
“Doctors and nursing staff were airlifted from Kochi, Mumbai, Vizag and Bengaluru for setting up the DRDO Covid hospital at Delhi. Oxygen containers of the DRDO have also been airlifted from Bengaluru for Covid centres in Delhi,” he said.
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 director general of the Armed Forces Medical Services.
“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.
On April 20, defence minister Rajnath Singh carried out an extensive review of the preparedness of the armed forces and other allied organisations to deal with the surge in Covid infections across the country.
At that meeting, Singh asked the DPSUs, the DRDO and others to work on war footing to provide oxygen cylinders and extra beds to civil administration and state governments. The armed forces and other stakeholders were also given the go-ahead to buy medicines and other critical items using their emergency powers.
The military is also exploring the possibility of utilising the services of vaccinated retired military personnel to help the civil administration and state governments deal with the grim situation.