Defence Minister Rajnath Singh spoke to US Secretary of Defence Mark T  Esper on phone and exchanged views on the grave situation arising out of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Both Singh and Esper “expressed confidence that through open communication and mutual support, the world can overcome the pandemic”,  the Defence Ministry said.

The two ministers agreed to remain in touch during this trying period. Singh briefed Secretary Esper on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s initiative to coordinate COVID-19 relief efforts in South Asia.

The two defence ministers reviewed progress in bilateral defence cooperation spanning cooperation in the region, expanding military-to-military engagements and defence trade and industry as part of the India-US comprehensive global strategic partnership, the ministry added.

The conversation between the two leaders came six days after External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar discussed with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo ways in which their two countries could cooperate to combat coronavirus.

Meanwhile, the Defence Ministry named a nodal officer to coordinate with the armed forces the steps being taken to grapple with the challenge posed by the pandemic. Anupam Sharma, a Brigadier rank personnel, will be the nodal officer, who will work under the Chief of Defence Staff Gen Bipin Rawat.

Chief of the Army Staff Gen MM Naravane reviewed the Indian Army’s preparation to contain COVID-19 infections in the estimated 1.4 million-strong force.

This came against the backdrop of reports that an Indian Army personnel had contracted COVID-19 after being infected by his father who had been for a pilgrimage to Iran, among the countries worst affected by the deadly virus.

At its headquarters in New Delhi, the Army was looking at reducing attendance in offices with effect from 23 March, except those engaged in essential or emergency services directly involved in taking measures to control spread of COVID-19.