When Prime Minister Narendra Modi lands at the Saket College helipad in Uttar Pradesh’s Ayodhya town at 11.30am on Wednesday, he will have a special ring of protection — local police personnel who have recovered from the coronavirus disease (Covid-19), the state’s deputy inspector general of police said on Tuesday.
The PM will spend roughly three hours in the temple town for the groundbreaking ceremony of the Ram temple and authorities are confident that the group of 150 recovered personnel — who experts say develop antibodies to the disease and are therefore unlikely to contract the infection or spread it , at least for the next few months — will be crucial to protect him from the threat of Covid-19.
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“It’s in the protocol for protecting the Prime Minister that he must be guarded by healthy personnel. Now what can be healthier in these times than a Covid-19 warrior,” said UP deputy inspector general of police Deepak Kumar.
The recovered personnel will form the first layer of protection for the PM in a city where the disease has claimed 16 lives and where there are still 604 cases. They will also be posted at key positions in spots the PM is expected to visit to ensure that all security personnel in Modi’s proximity are not an infection threat.
Kumar said he wrote to the UP director general of police Hitesh Chandra Awasthy on July 29 and made a special request that around 150 UP Police personnel who had contracted the disease and recovered by July 25 make their way to Ayodhya. The request was allowed immediately. “I had the entire list of all those impacted and the ADG (law and order) immediately okayed my request,” said Kumar. Most of the personnel are from Lucknow though some are from far-off districts such as Bareilly.
The PM will visit the Hanuman Garhi temple, then make his way to the temple site where he will lay the foundation of the Ram temple and address 175 guests, plant a sapling and then meet members of the Shri Ram Janambhoomi Teertha Kshetra Trust.
Kumar agreed that 150 personnel were not enough to protect the PM in the high-profile event but added that the larger security detail will comprise 400 additional personnel who have tested negative for Covid-19 in the past 48 hours and then been isolated.
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“Our aim is that every police personnel that the PM’s eyes fall on, is either a Covid-19 warrior or has been tested in the last 48 hours,” said Kumar. He said that the additional 400 personnel were isolated either at their own homes or a quarantine centre at the Ram Janambhoomi site. While 300 of those police personnel were administered Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction (or RT-PCR) tests, the rest were given rapid antigen tests.
The decision came a day after a second priest at the existing makeshift Ram temple tested positive for Covid-19 and authorities expressed concern that local residents were flouting social distancing guidelines. Last week, a junior priest and four other personnel were found to be infected with the virus that has claimed 1,800 lives in the state.
To combat the threat of the infection, authorities have decided on a strict protocol that includes testing all guests, enforcing wearing of masks and sealing the district borders so that people from outside cannot gather at the site. The government has also appealed to local residents to remain at home and follow the event on television.
”We are confident now that no one will be infected because we have tested anyone who will come within eight feet of a VIP,” said district magistrate Anuj Jha, who is also a member of the temple trust.
Jha added that even people who put up the tents where the event will happen and the drivers of motorcades have been tested and found negative. ”Everyone will wear a mask, everyone will maintain social distancing and it’s going to be fine,” he said.
People who have recovered from Covid-19 have increased immunity against reinfection because antibodies develop in their bodies that protect them in the event of any future exposure to the Sars-Cov-2 virus, at least temporarily.