Rajnath Singh speaks with US counterpart on virus cooperation

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NEW DELHI :
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Friday spoke to his US counterpart Secretary of Defence Mark T. Esper by phone and exchanged views on the “grave situation arising out of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic,” a defence ministry statement said.

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Both Singh and Esper “expressed confidence that through open communication and mutual support, the world can overcome the pandemic,” it said.

The conversation between the two came on a day the Defence Ministry named a nodal officer to coordinate with the armed forces against the backdrop of Coronavirus cases in India crossing the 225 mark. Anupam Sharma, of the rank of Brigadier, was named the nodal officer and will under the Chief of Defence Staff, Bipin Rawat.

“ The two Defence Ministers reviewed progress in bilateral defence cooperation spanning cooperation in the region, expanding military-to-military engagements and defence trade and industry, as part of India-US comprehensive global strategic partnership,” the statement said on the Singh-Esper conversation.

“The two Ministers exchanged views on the grave situation arising out of the COVID-19 pandemic and expressed confidence that through open communication and mutual support, the world can overcome the pandemic. Both the Ministers agreed to remain in touch during this trying period. Defence Minister (Singh) briefed Secretary Esper about Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi’s initiative to coordinate COVID-19 relief efforts in South Asia. He invited Secretary Esper to visit India at the earliest convenience,” the defence ministry statement added.

Separately, the Chief of Army Staff, Manoj Mukund Naravane reviewed Indian Army’s preparation to contain COVID-19 infections in the estimated 1.4 million strong force, a statement from the Indian army said.

This came against the backdrop of reports that an Indian army personnel had contracted COVID-19 after being infected by his father who had been to one of the world’s infection hotspots – Iran – for pilgrimage. The Indian army did not confirm the report.

Among the steps taken by the army to prevent and contain any infections were awareness campaigns on precautions to be taken within the Army and also for communities in near vicinity to Army establishments, the statement said. The army had also postponed all conferences and seminars till 15 April. Those attending training courses that are to end before 15 April are to remain at the training facility, the person said. The leave of those personnel already on holiday had been extended till 15 April 2020 at the discretion of Competent Authority. Posting of all personnel was being deferred, the statement said adding that the Army had appealed to veterans and civilians living within and in the vicinity of Army cantontments and stations to “adhere to Social Distancing norms and to support additional or enhanced measures” instituted to prevent spread of COVID -19, the statement said.

At its headquarters in New Delhi, the army was looking at reducing attendance in offices with effect from 23 March, except those engaged in essential or emergency services directly involved in taking measures to control spread of COVID-19. An order allowing 35 % officers and 50 % junior commissioned officers and other ranks to work from home adhering to home quarantine for one week starting 23 March was to be issued. A second group would proceed on home quarantine on 30 March, the statement said.

“Intermixing of groups would be avoided. It shall be ensured personnel are available on telephone and electronic means at all times for exigencies of work,” the statement said. Those attending office would adhere to staggered timings ie 0900 hours – 1730 hours and 0945 hours – 1815 hours, the statement added.

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