Vital role of Forces in tackling COVID-19 | Daily News


Vital role of Forces in tackling COVID-19

Which institution in our society is most geared for rapid action and a multi-dimensional response during any emergency? Some may point to our medical care system which, in these ultra-modern times, can certainly pride itself in its capacity to instantly deal with real issues of life and death. But the medical system only deals with healthcare, as do some other specialised emergency response agencies - like the Fire Service - that are geared to handle a specific contingency. The sole institution with greater capacities to respond to a multi-dimensional crisis (whether it is war or disaster) is the Armed Forces of a country.

The Armed Forces of a country have a capacity to respond rapidly and on a larger scale (given their personnel strength and equipment range) to any contingency the nation faces and they are expected to professionally maintain that readiness at all times. That the Sri Lankan Armed Forces have demonstrated their response capability many times in our post-colonial era has been well recorded.

While military defence is the prime task of the Armed Forces, the Forces have to undertake that defence in a wide range of circumstances in terms of social, political and geopolitical conditions and geo-physical theatres of action. The Tri-Forces, therefore, are fully geared for action on land, at sea and in the skies.

Even as they countered the sustained, decades-long separatist war as well as successive Southern insurgencies, the Armed Forces also had to contribute to the national response to various disasters, including the catastrophe of the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. With the successful tackling of the Easter bomber movement under its belt, the Armed Forces has also, more recently, demonstrated its capacity in aerial firefighting.

The Sri Lankan public, therefore, must be reassured that one of the most experienced military establishments in the world has now taken on the burden of providing a range of responses to the current global-scale health crisis in close cooperation with the regular Government healthcare establishment. The Defence Ministry Secretary and the Chief of Defence Staff have both come forward to state the role of their institutions in supporting the national response to COVID-19.

Did the country suddenly need a protected, specialised, quarantine facility to treat the first influx of COVID-19 threatened returnees? Within two days, the Army had prepared a special facility in its Diyatalawa Cantonment – in a region famous for its salubrious climes. When, in the past week, three Sri Lankans have tested ‘positive’ to COVID-19, bringing the pandemic threat directly to our island home, the Armed Forces have already responded, taking on the task of quickly creating more quarantine facilities.

The Defence Ministry is understood to have also obtained the cooperation of certain business firms who have quickly offered additional facilities for free use as quarantine centres. Today, well ahead of most COVID-19 affected countries, little Sri Lanka is benefiting from this quick and efficient response from the Armed Forces in the creation of quarantine facilities – quarantine being a critical measure in fighting this highly contagious disease.

It is both the Armed Forces’ large scale logistical capability as well as its own specialised medical capacities that have enabled this important contribution to the nation’s health safety. In close coordination with the Health authorities, the Army’s Preventive Medicine & Mental Health Service is heading the task of building quarantine complexes strategically located across the country to enable people in different regions easily access such facilities. The quarantine centres are being provided all residential amenities to ensure comfort during this period of enforced isolation so necessary to rescue the potential victim and the larger society from this viral threat. Even Wi-Fi communication is provided.

In these globalised times, a ‘pandemic’ is far more than a medical challenge. Given its equally serious economic impact and the corollary social reactions, the country faces something far more than a medical treatment challenge. Prevention requires national scale public cooperation in practising personal hygiene as well as social distancing measures.

In this situation, the Armed Forces are now demonstrating to the nation its multi-tasking capacity. How many citizens are aware that, amid this furore over ‘positive’ patients, the Sri Lanka Navy has successfully concluded the Roman Catholic festival on Kachchathivu Island along with the necessary medical precautions? The Navy, in additional to its usual tasks of sprucing up the Shrine and, ferrying, landing and accommodating the pilgrims from India and Sri Lanka, also undertook the additional task of ensuring medical testing for the thousands of devotees who annually flock to the island.

With the Forces demonstrating their efficiency and discipline in ensuring public health and safety in the face of this dangerous threat, it is now up to the citizenry to emulate this commitment and discipline in their individual hygiene and collaborate with public measures and institutions so that we can collectively defeat it.

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