New Delhi: At least 26 Indian Navy personnel serving at the Western Naval Command's base in Mumbai have tested positive for the coronavirus, triggering a big scare in the Indian military establishment.
This is the first major outbreak of the virus in any one single establishment of the armed forces. The Army has 8 Covid-19 positive cases on hand but they are sporadic cases.
But this is an outbreak at one installation, which would require the authorities to throw a wider containment perimeter around the hot spot and initiate extensive testing and isolation of personnel.
All the infected sailors were serving at INS Angre, an iconic shore-based logistics and support establishment that hosts barracks for sailors on shore and supplies ships at sea.
INS Angre has been put under lockdown and the sailors are all undergoing treatment at a Navy hospital, official sources said.
A large-scale contact tracing operation has been launched to track the people who may have come in contact with the sailors.
Sources said 25 of the infected sailors were staying in a barracks with single-room accomodations within the INS Angre complex, while one sailor was living with his mother in his own house.
The sailor's mother has also tested positive, sources said.
The Navy is carrying out virus testing of all people staying in the residential accommodation and it has been declared as a "containment zone", while INS Angre was put under total lockdown as per the prescribed protocol of apex medical research body ICMR.
A statement put out by the Navy earlier had said "Most of these (cases) are asymptomatic and have been traced to a single sailor who was tested positive on April 7. They all reside in the same accommodation block at INS Angre.”
INS Angre includes the Manor House, which is the seat of the Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Western Naval Command. It is the shore-based logistics and administrative support establishment of the Western Naval Command and also houses the naval barracks.
Supplies to the Western Command's ships go out from INS Angre. However, there are no cases of infection on board any of the ships and submarines of the Indian Navy.
The outbreak comes at a time when a number of navies globally are grappling with the Covid-19 pandemic. A sailor on board the USS Theodore Roosevelt, an aircraft carrier, reported as many as 500 cases of the virus. The French Navy has also been hit hard by the pandemic.
Indian Navy had already issued a detailed advisory on COVID-19 for its personnel. It directed crew on submarines and warships to disembark at domestic and foreign ports only if it was essential.
The advisory said that when a COVID-19 case is reported onboard while at sea, the patient must be isolated and all close contacts of the patient should be quarantined. “It should be treated as an emergency and all efforts should be made to evacuate him to a hospital ashore,” said the advisory.
Last week, Navy chief Admiral Karambir Singh, in a video message, told personnel that vital operational assets such as ships and submarines must remain free from the virus. "The coronavirus pandemic is unprecedented. The danger posed by this disease is real, imminent and unprecedented.”