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The Guardian

‘I can’t stop crying’: families of Australians surprised in India by wave of Covid plead for repatriation

Coalition urged to set up additional quarantine facilities as loved ones recount desperation over escalating crisis With stronger quarantine system, Australia could offer more help to those trapped in India | Relatives of Hassan Vally wearing protective gear perform final rites for a Covid victim at an open crematorium in Bangalore, southern India. The Australian government is urged to do more to repatriate its citizens. Photograph: AFP / Getty Images Families of Australians stranded in the subcontinent urge the Morrison government to put in place a quarantine solution that would allow their loved ones to return home en masse when flights from India finally resume . Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Tuesday announced a break on direct flights from India to Australia until at least May 15 – including government repatriation flights which are expected to land at the quarantine facility of Howard Springs outside Darwin. Some 9,000 Australians in India are bracing for a worsening of the Covid epidemic which saw 350,000 new infections on Monday. Measures taken by countries like Singapore, the United Arab Emirates and Malaysia to ban non-citizens from transit through their airports have essentially closed any possibility of leaving India. Morrison, when asked about the possibility that vulnerable Australians in India could die during the health crisis, said: “This is the nature of a global pandemic – this is why we have repatriated citizens.” “I don’t see these Australians of Indian descent as a problem that we have to solve, not at all, and I’m afraid that’s how some may have seen it,” he said. “It is Australians and Australian residents who need our help and we intend to make sure that we are able to restore, especially the repatriation flights, and that these repatriation flights are focused on the most vulnerable.” Morrison did not directly respond if he would consider setting up additional federal quarantine facilities, but he did signal that Australian cricketers currently in India would not be given priority to return once flights resumed. Deepa, who lives on Sydney’s North Shore, is one of the countless Indian Australians overwhelmed by news from her home country. “Every day I read the news and I can’t stop crying,” Deepa, who did not want her name published, told Guardian Australia. “It’s so heartbreaking the way they treated the Australians, who went there with government permission, who have been trying to get home since before this current wave. What kind of value system does our government have? At the end of February, after the death of her husband Ashish’s father, he flew to Chandigarh to be with his mother. Ashish planned to help him clean up his father’s affairs and adjust to life without him. Last week, Ashish’s return flight via Singapore was canceled when that country banned flights for non-citizens from India. And since the $ 6,000 he spent on that plane ticket had yet to be refunded, his family was struggling to pay for one of the remaining routes home that had yet to be closed. . “We don’t have the money to book another flight and risk a border change forcing it to be canceled,” Deepa said. Ashish is now buying supplies for her mother so that she doesn’t have to go out and risk infection. Deepa believes that, given the rate of infection, it is inevitable that he will contract Covid-19 at some point. “I hope and pray that if he catches it, his symptoms will be mild and he will heal,” she said. Deepa has several younger relatives in Bangalore who have contracted Covid in the current wave and are now being treated for pneumonia. She is desperate for the government to put in place a safe quarantine facility to allow the large-scale repatriation of Australians. While her husband was in India, their landlord gave them an eviction notice by May 10, and Deepa and her seven-year-old daughter, Aditi, had to pack up their home without Ashish. “They have stopped seeing us as citizens – there are so few options for Australians to come back when flights resume. But if you are a cricketer and can afford to charter a flight, do you deserve to be safe more than others? It’s absurd, ”Deepa said. “They are the government, they have quarantine facilities, they have a responsibility to examine rural areas for new solutions. They have to make the system work. “If they want to make sure that everyone who goes into quarantine in Australia is not at Covid risk, then why do they even have a quarantine system?” Also in Sydney, Anisa Patel observes with despair the deterioration of the situation in India. She moved to Australia with her husband from Mumbai seven years ago and they run a packaged meal business. All of their parents and extended family remain in India. “We are extremely worried about our parents,” she said. “It’s constantly at the back of my mind.” Anisa believes that once the government allows flights to resume, it should expand the quarantine capacity and offer it to all Australians stranded in India. She also believes quarantine capacity should be reserved, so if Australians have to return to India to visit sick relatives in emergency situations, they are in a position to do so. “As the situation worsens, many parents of Australian Indians will fall ill. Many will have to return, it is an important part of their life. They should be able to leave and have a way back that doesn’t pose a risk to the community, ”she said, suggesting a regional quarantine option.



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