NEW DELHI: The Centre on Wednesday asked paramilitary forces to get into "battle mode" and plan ahead to combat COVID-19, asking them to postpone administration works by medical staff in lieu of the demand already placed on their time and effort.
Stating "limited" resources are needed to be utilised wisely and healthcare staff are at "maximum risk" and they are likely to become "overburdened" in the coming days, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has asked CAPFs to ensure security of medical staff.
Describing coming three weeks as extremely crucial, the MHA has asked CAPFs to leave no scope in battling the outbreak, saying that "lack of caution" by even one personnel could be alarming.
Apprehending that security of medical staff may be compromised in future days due to difficult circumstances, the ministry said, "If and when the healthcare staff falls sick, the healthcare system is likely to be burdened. They are prone to be anxious, worried, irritable and even angry and may even be attacked by the public when resources are limited…security for staff will have to be ensured."
In the detailed guidelines issued to Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs), the MHA announced that all "non-emergency leaves" of CAPFs may be cancelled to "cut down travel risk".
The guidelines - on the role and responsibilities of CAPFs - also asked CAPFs to not forward any unscientific, unsubstantiated messages on social media. The forces were also told to plan and arrange for "emergency budget" for protective equipment and disinfection material for all staff, especially medical staff and workers.
Emphasising on containing the spread of COVID-19, the advisory stated, "The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), the government's main medical research body, has given India an estimated 30 days to prepare. The only thing that is likely to slow the exponential growth and spread of this infection is measures to prevent community transmission."
Describing COVID-19 as "the most infectious virus the world has seen in recent times", the ministry has asked CAPFs to avoid places that have heavy footfall.
It also advised postponing all meetings with outsiders. "Organise web-based meetings if urgent, don't meet in groups of more than ten. Avoid all conferences, sports events. Avoid visits to markets and malls," the letter said.
"Social distancing (maintaining a gap of at least a metre to other people) for general public and meticulous personal prophylaxis and disinfection for healthcare staff is required. There is a need to get into battle mode and plan ahead... in theory and through drills," the four-page advisory read.
India’s paramilitary forces comprise around least 10 lakh men and women posted all over the country for internal security duties, including border areas and tensed terrains of Jammu and Kashmir, North East and naxal-affected areas.
CAPFs comprise Central Reserve Police Force, the Border Security Force, the Central Industrial Security Force, the Indo-Tibetan Border Police, the Sashastra Seema Bal, National Security Guard and Assam Rifles.
"Avoid international or domestic travel (air, train or bus) for at least one month, except when essential. Non-emergency leave of any kind may be cancelled forthwith. This will cut down travel-related risk of virus spreading," the advisory said.
In keeping with what is now global protocol to prevent the spread of COVID-19, paramilitary personnel are also being encouraged to avoid physical contact such as handshakes and are being taught to practice cough hygiene.
India is currently at Stage-II of the coronavirus pandemic. According to the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), this means that at present, there is no community transmission of the virus.
The advisory also instructed personnel to wash hands frequently, especially when in public places, and keep shoes outside the house. The advisory issued through office of additional Director General (Medical)
The advisory also asked paramilitary personnel to organise public awareness and education camps, and to put up posters available on Health Ministry and World Health Organisation (WHO) websites. However, it said, "Do not hold gatherings for this purpose."