The Federal Government has announced it is suspending flights from India to Australia until 15 May, leaving an estimated 8000 Australian nationals stranded.
In response, Canberra’s Indian community is calling for quarantine capacity to be increased so Australians in India can return home safely as a deadly wave of COVID-19 sweeps their homeland.
Up to 15,000 people in the Canberra and Queanbeyan area have relatives in India. In the past 24 hours, around 3000 people in India have died from COVID-19 and around 350,000 new cases have been confirmed. The country is seeing mass cremations as the health system struggles to cope with the demand for oxygen and hospital beds.
Federation of Indian Associations of the ACT president Dr Sunita Dhindsa said the region’s Indian community felt more isolated than ever as they tried to stay in touch with loved ones.
Dr Dhindsa said safely returning as many Australians as possible was their priority.
“There is a lot of anxiety here. Every person here has friends or relatives in India who have been impacted by COVID, including my sister and her family,” Dr Dhindsa told Region Media.
While emphasising that they would never jeopardise the safety of people in Australia, Dr Dhindsa called on Canberra’s multicultural community and the federal government to support more measures to get Australians in India back home and into quarantine.
“Australians in India deserve to be home, just as we deserve to be safe. We want Australians to be safe, but there are things we can do to help the country and help people safely return to Australia,” she said.
“We could look at bringing 1000 people back and quarantining them on an offshore quarantine facility.
“The virus has been happening for over a year now, and we’ve had these windows where we could have brought more people back home. It’s just that the quarantine system has not supported us all along.
“We now know how to address the risks of bringing people back in bigger numbers.”
Dr Dhindsa said Canberrans could support India by donating to the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund or non-government organisations on the ground.
Canberra Multicultural Community Forum chair and president of the Canberra Chinese Association, Chin Wong, said they felt for their friends in India.
“We realise how difficult it is when you have to watch the news and things feel like they are out of your control in your home country,” Ms Wong said.
“We are discussing with our friends in the Indian community what we can do, even as little as providing food for Australians wanting to come back to Canberra when they need to be isolated.
“We also support the Indian community to call on the Federal Government and the multicultural community to provide as much support as possible and help them get through this phase.”
Indian-born former member of the ACT Legislative Assembly Deepak Raj-Gupta said it was time for Australia to step up and extend a helping hand during India’s hour of need.
“Indian diasporas in the ACT are worried about their loved ones who are now stranded in India due to various reasons and went to India on an exemption,” Mr Gupta said.
He understood Australia’s need to keep the COVID-19 virus out of the country, but suggested vaccines could be sent to more than 8ooo Australian citizens stuck in India.
“Australia also has the capabilities of constructing temporary health facilities,” he said.
“Some local residents have been stuck in India for a long period of time and have been trying to come home for months. The delay in coming home has already started to take an emotional toll on many local community members.”