Leading the charge was Central Industrial Security Force’s (CISF’s) deputy inspector general (IGI unit) Shrikant Kishore. His task was to shepherd Indians who were stranded at the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak in the Chinese city.
For Kishore, and his troops, it was all about what they had been taught to do. “When we join the Forces, we take an oath and swear by the National Flag that we will do our duty, no matter the risk to our lives. I know that and my boys know that, too," points out Kishore.
Even as social distancing has become the norm, with the virus spreading rapidly across India, Kishore refuses to give in, or let his troops back down. The fear of contracting the virus, says Kishore, is there. But he reiterates that it takes fearlessness to lead young troops of CISF into a battle where the enemy is invisible and unpredictable.
“There is only one way to handle the fear that the boys feel at this time. That requires me to lead. If I move back and tell my boys to go first, they are bound to hesitate and be afraid. So, it is only fair that I lead them into action, so that they have the confidence to handle the situation," explains Kishore.
His staff members are in awe of Kishore, who has selflessly thrown himself into the exercise of not just ensuring a safe passage at the airport, but to also coordinating special operations from Wuhan, Tokyo and Iran.
“We have eight-hour duties when we frisk passengers. But Sir (Kishore) keeps a close watch on every corner of the domestic and international terminals all day, every day. His determination despite the outbreak has only encouraged us to be on our toes," said a CISF ground official, requesting anonymity.
But Kishore refuses to take the credit for the exercise. “It’s a collective effort. We had deployed QRT (quick reaction team) and special team of screeners to screen passengers who have come from outside and who may be infected. From day one, we started our briefings and informed our men on the nature of the coronavirus," he says.
Structurally and culturally, Kishore has now made some changes to the screening process for passengers who were likely to be carriers of the coronavirus.
While hygiene is Kishore’s prime concern, he said special concessions have been made for women CISF personnel, who have small children, and added that they have been posted at other zones in the airport.
“Usually, troops change uniform once every three days. I instructed them to change their uniform everyday. The berets are made of wool, so they were instructed to keep that aside when screening passengers or working near the isolation bay when these special flights come in. And our commanders have been ensuring this is carried out," he says.
The troops on airport duty have also been given strict instructions to remove their uniforms before stepping into their homes, besides sanitizing themselves thoroughly.
With India operating special flights to rescue stranded Indians from abroad, Kishore and his team, who wear hazmat—or hazardous materials—suits when an evacuation flight lands, has been aiding passengers. However, on any given day, Kishore claimed IGI’s international arrival terminal has never been more crowded.
“There is another key to conquering fear—that is to be aware of the dos and don’ts. We wore hazmat suits when we were working on the special flights with people who were almost certain to have contracted the coronavirus," says Kishore.
“Usually at the arrival hall, passengers may need assistance with children or with luggage, or some may need to be restrained, too, if they agitate. In such cases, hazmat suits restrict movement," he adds.
Kishore has trained his men to work instead with gloves and masks. While surgical gloves have been handed out to personnel coming in direct contact with passengers who may be infected, others have been given cotton gloves. He said troops will be given hazmat suits if the ministry of health and family welfare advises them to do so.
For now, however, Kishore and his team rely on the special training they have received to tackle calamities, ranging from earthquakes to now the coronavirus.