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NEW DELHI: Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Tuesday delegated emergency powers to the three services chiefs and the Director General of the Armed Forces Medical Services (AFMS) to meet critical medical demands amid the sharp surge in covid-19 cases in India.

This was one of the main outcomes of a meeting chaired by Singh that was attended by top military commanders and senior officials of the defence ministry. Ways to contain the spread of covid-19 among the Armed Forces personnel and the officers and staff working in Ministry of Defence were also discussed.

From 1.31 lakh new covid-19 cases reported on 9 April to 2.73 lakh reported on 20 April, covid-19 infections in India have shown a major spike. More than 2,59,000 new cases were registered in the last 24 hours with the bulk of the new cases being recorded in 10 states -- Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Karnataka, Kerala, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Rajasthan, according to government numbers.

During the virtual event, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) outlined plans to add to the number of beds available for the critically ill in the country as well as meet shortages of oxygen supplies in hospitals.

“Singh was briefed about the measures taken by AFMS, DRDO, Defence Public Sector Undertakings (DPSUs), Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) and other organisations of Ministry of Defence such as National Cadet Corps (NCC) in providing aid to the civil administration in this hour of crisis," a statement from the ministry said.

Singh “urged the DPSUs, OFB and DRDO to work on war footing to provide oxygen cylinders and extra beds to civil administration and state governments at the earliest. He called upon the Armed Forces to be in close contact with the state governments and be ready to provide any required assistance. The Defence Minister also delegated the emergency powers of procurement so that critical needs are procured," it said.

DRDO chairman Satheesh Reddy said a covid-19 facility, developed by DRDO, had again been made functional in New Delhi and “efforts are being made to soon increase the number of beds from 250 to 500."

Similar efforts in Patna, with an addition of 500 beds, another 450-bed hospital in Lucknow, a 750-bed hospital in Varanasi and a 900-bed hospital in Ahmedabad were also being worked on, Reddy informed the minister.

Technology to manufacture 1,000 litres a minute capacity oxygen units, developed on the lines of “On-Board Oxygen Generation Technology" for India’s Light Combat Aircraft, “has been given to the industry and the Uttar Pradesh government has placed order of five such plants with the industry," Reddy told the meeting according to the statement. More such oxygen units can be supplied by the industry to cater to the hospital requirements, he said. Blood Oxygen Saturation or SpO2 units based on supplemental oxygen delivery system developed for soldiers posted at extreme high-altitude areas can be used in the treatment of covid patients, he said. DRDO had shared the technology with Indian industry to develop these systems for the market, he said.

In his comments, Singh suggested that the services of vaccinated retired armed forces personnel could be used to assist the civil administration and state governments to deal with the current situation.

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