Military moves oxygen and personnel, DRDO completes 1,000-bed hospital in Gujarat

Clockwise from top-left: An IAF GlobeMaster III ferries Covid-19 testing machinery and equipment from Air Force Stations Chandigarh and Jammu to Leh, Rapid Action Medical Team (RAMT) are airlifted from Air Force Stations Jorhat and Kalaikunda for the COVID hospital at Hindan, Southern Naval Command deputes Navy ships to ferry oxygen cylinders to Lakshadweep and Minicoy | Twitter handles of Armed Forces accounts

India's Armed Forces and the defence establishments have amplified their efforts in the fight against the second wave of COVID-19 infections in the country, offering support through military doctors, medical specialists and hospital beds.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Saturday directed both the Armed Forces and the Defence Ministry establishments to extend all possible assistance to the civilian administration to help tide over the catastrophic second wave. Singh said the Indian people look up to the Armed Forces in times of crisis as they have great hope and trust in them.

To help with the shortage and huge demand for oxygen, a C-17 Globemaster III transport plane of the IAF will be airlifting four containers of cryogenic oxygen from Singapore to the Panagarh airbase in West Bengal on Saturday.

In the afternoon, the Defence Minister reviewed the efforts of his ministry and of the three Services in fighting the current COVID-19 crisis. In the meeting, he was informed by DRDO Chairman Dr Satheesh Reddy that another 250 beds would become functional at the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel COVID hospital in New Delhi by Saturday evening, taking the total number of beds to 500. Armed Forces Medical Services (AFMS) has also deployed additional doctors, including specialists, super specialists and paramedics, at Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel hospital in Delhi to cater to the current surge in COVID-19 cases.

An official said that as against 294 doctors and health workers in 2020, 378 were mobilised this year, of which 164 were doctors, compared to 132 the previous year. Last year, only 18 specialists were deployed, as against 43 specialists and 17 super specialists this year.

This year, when the facility was reopened on April 19 with the provision of 250 beds, all beds were occupied within two hours of opening the facility. Of note, all these patients were critical and oxygen-dependent. "The [number of] critical patients admitted this time is in excess of more than 85 per cent at any given point of time (more than eight times compared to last year’s worst peak)," an official explained.

In Gujarat, DRDO completed setting up a 1,000-bed hospital, Singh said. He added that work is in full swing to establish a COVID facility in Lucknow that would become operational in the next 5-6 days. These hospitals would be run by the AFMS (Armed Forces Medical Services) in coordination and with the assistance of local state governments.

Moreover, senior officials of MoD are in constant touch with the officials of state governments for necessary coordination in this regard. As AFMS has its resources stretched to the limit, the services of local doctors and health professionals might be enlisted for the 750-bed hospital that is coming up at Varanasi. To augment the workforce of health professionals, the defence ministry has approved a suggestion to deploy those who have recently retired from AFMS.

One C-17 transported two empty container trucks for liquid oxygen from Pune to Jamnagar and another transported two empty oxygen containers from Jodhpur to Jamnagar. A Chinook helicopter airlifted medical equipment for COVID testing from Jammu to Leh. Indian Navy ships have also been put on standby for any assistance in moving oxygen tankers.

Rajnath Singh was also briefed that all health facilities of Defence PSUs and Ordnance Factory Board have been allowed to provide health services to the local COVID-19 affected civilian population. He directed the officials of MoD and the three Services to closely monitor the progress of various initiatives.