As health infrastructure across the country is stretched to the limits with over 2 lakh Covid-19 cases being reported daily, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh has asked the Indian Army to pitch in.
All three forces, the Indian Army, Navy and the Air Force run their own hospitals that cater to the needs of officers, jawans and their families. These hospitals themselves are dealing with a crunch because of the rapidly spreading double mutant Covid-19 virus.
The Army itself is dealing with a deluge of cases in all Command hospitals including Lucknow and Secundrabad. In Delhi, the Army has had to shut down regular services at the Base hospital and covert it into a Covid only facility.
In another major move, the Army, Navy and Air Force have been asked to identify and mobilise their retired doctors, who were fully vaccinated, to man Covid hospitals being created by the DRDO and HAL.
At a meeting with Army Chief General MM Naravane and Defence Secretary Ajay Kumar on Monday, Rajnath Singh asked local commanders in various states to meet their respective chief ministers and offer them whatever help is needed in times of this ‘mega crisis’. This comes amid the ministry being flooded with petitions from various states to construct ‘pop-up’ Covid hospitals like the one the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has opened in Delhi. Within two hours of the facility opening, all 250 beds were taken.
“We have also freed up our rail transportation resources that we use to transport out big guns and tanks, so that oxygen can be transported across the country. We have released 32 wagons and will release more if needed," said a senior officer, who is aware of the development.
The ministry has also asked all 63 cantonment boards that run their own hospitals to open their doors to people who live outside the cantonment premises. The DRDO is in the process of setting up and reactivating Covid hospitals in five cities including Delhi, Lucknow, Ahmedabad, Patna and Nasik.
In Delhi, the DRDO is in the process of setting up a 500-bed Covid facility to ease the pressure on Delhi’s beleaguered hospitals. All beds will have oxygen support. A total of 250 beds that were readied on Monday filled up in two hours flat, 250 more should be ready by Thursday. The facility is at the same location near the Delhi airport where it had set up a 1,000-bed facility last year. That makeshift hospital was folded up this February as the number of cases dipped. The facility will be staffed and monitored by the DG, Armed Forces Medical Services. Treatment will be free, but an RT-PCR report and Aadhaar card are mandatory.
Lucknow, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh’s constituency, is getting two similar Covid hospitals with a combined strength of 1,000 beds. These hospitals will include 250-350 ICU beds. The locations identified for these hospitals is the Haj House on Kanpur Road and Golden Blossom Resort on Faizabad Road. Both should be operational in the next few days and will come as a huge relief to a city where patients are dying waiting for ICU beds. Another jumbo 1,000-bed facility is being set up by the DRDO and HAL at the Awadh Shilpgram in Lucknow. Not just hospital beds, ventilators, oxygen, and space in crematoriums and graveyards have also run out in Lucknow. It has more than 40,000 active Covid-19 cases, including chief minister Yogi Adityanath. The DRDO will also help the government set up 10 new oxygen plants across the state to augment supply for medical use.
The DRDO will also be helping the government to set up 10 new oxygen plants across the state to augment supply for medical use. Interestingly, the technology that can produce 1000 litres/minute was originally developed for the Light Combat Aircraft Tejas.
The other state capital where the DRDO is pitching in with Covid duty is Ahmedabad. This is where a 900-bed hospital is being set up at the request of Home Minister Rajnath Singh. The MHA is deputing 25 doctors and 75 paramedics from the paramilitary forces at this hospital.
The Bihar government too has requested the DRDO for help as cases peak in Patna. In Patna, the DRDO has converted the ESI hospital into a full-fledged 500 strong COVID bed facility, which is now operational.
More requests from other states are pouring in from across India, said Dr NK Arya the PRO of the DRDO. Rajya Sabha MP from Gaziabad Dr Anil Agarwal has written to Rajnath Singh requesting for a temporary DRDO Covid hospital in the district.
Dr Arya said setting up hospitals is not part of the DRDO’s regular duty. Its job is to develop cutting edge technology for India’s armed forces and keep it battle-ready. “But this is perhaps the biggest war the country is fighting. We have to do our bit," said Arya.