The armed forces have been providing assistance in line with the "Aid to the Civil Power" policy of the Defense Ministry
More than a month has passed since the armed forces were deployed in the fight against Covid-19 in Bangladesh, helping local administrations with medical support, enforcement of precautionary measures, and distribution of relief.
Some members of the armed forces have also been infected while assisting in the fight against the invisible enemy, but the number of infections is “marginal and controllable” due to their disciplined lifestyle, an army official said.
The Bangladesh Armed Forces – consisting of the army, navy and air force - began assisting the administration in every division and district of the country from March 24. Initially, they were tasked with ensuring that people maintain social distancing and with the implementation of precautionary measures to help prevent the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus from spreading.
The armed forces have been providing assistance in line with the "Aid to the Civil Power" policy of the Defense Ministry, according to a press release issued by the Inter-Services Public Relation Directorate (ISPR).
From the beginning, the Army has been coordinating with the local administrations and evaluating the quarantine system for suspected Covid-19 patients and treatment of confirmed patients. The navy has been assisting in the administrations of coastal districts, and the air force is helping transport medical equipment and handling emergency transport for patients of all hospitals.
ISPR Director Lt Col Abdullah Ibn Zaid told Dhaka Tribune: “Members of the armed forces are doing their duty in every district and upazila of the country in the fight against the global Covid-19 pandemic. They will continue until they receive further orders.”
Army personnel to be deployed as needed
According to ISPR, 7,500 army personnel are working in 62 districts of the country to protect people from the novel coronavirus by helping to maintain social distancing and road safety, as well as by monitoring lockdown areas.
In addition, army personnel are also giving their rations to the poor in various districts as reliefs.
Quoting the Army Chief General Aziz Ahmed, ISPR Director Lt Col Abdullah Ibn Zaid told Dhaka Tribune: “Army personnel will be deployed as much as needed to counter the coronavirus pandemic.”
Recently at an inter-ministerial meeting, the army chief also said: “The army is acting under the directions of the prime minister. The prime minister compared coronavirus to a war. We are soldiers and we are always ready to fight. We are ready to help everyone.”
Navy active in coastal areas
ISPR Director Lt Col Abdullah Ibn Zaid told Dhaka Tribune: “In the beginning, the Bangladesh Navy deployed nine ships to alert fishermen and their families in coastal areas and near rivers, to create awareness and take precautionary measures against the spread of coronavirus.”
He also said that, the navy is providing masks, disinfectant and hand sanitizer to ensure the safety of fishermen. Furthermore, various relief goods, including rice and pulses, are being provided to the poor.
ISPR sources said, In order to raise awareness, the navy ships were operating at Saint Martin's, Cox's Bazar, Kutubdia, Patharghata, Barguna, Bhasan Char, Payra Port, and Chandpur.
Currently, there are five navy ships working in coastal areas, an officer of the Directorate of Naval Intelligence confirmed.
In response to a question, he said that the navy is helping fight Covid-19 in 19 upazilas and six districts of the country. Among them, Bhola and Barguna districts have been allocated to navy only.
Air Force helicopter helping Covid-19 patients
Bangladesh Air Force has been providing support through emergency aviation and medical evacuations said ISPR Director Lt Col Abdullah Ibn Zaid.
He also said a special Bangladesh Air Force helicopter is ready to transport Covid-19 patients in case of emergencies.
Air Force sources said that the helicopter, an AW-139, was outfitted with a cubicle stretcher to carry coronavirus patients, as per the directives of Chief of Air Staff Air Marshal Masihuzzaman Serniabat.
The cubicle stretcher is covered with plastic, and patients are able to breathe through an oxygen mask.
The process of installing such facilities in other helicopters and aircraft of Bangladesh Air Force is underway.
Army distributing relief in hill tracks
After the signing of Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord, also known as Chittagong Hill Tracts Treaty, Bangladesh Army has been working in Rangamati, Bandarban and Khagrachari districts under Operation Uttoron since 1997.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, army officers and soldiers have also been providing relief and medical support in hilly areas.
Some region commanders of the Hill Tracts told this correspondent that they are providing food assistance and relief aid to poor villagers of the hill tracts every day. They are using army helicopters, pickups, and even transporting relief on foot in some otherwise inaccessible areas.