Acting Indian high commissioner hopeful flights between India and Australia can continue

Federation of Indian Associations of the ACT president Dr Sunita Dhindsa has called on the government to speed up the repatriation of citizens stranded in India. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos
Federation of Indian Associations of the ACT president Dr Sunita Dhindsa has called on the government to speed up the repatriation of citizens stranded in India. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

India's most senior diplomat in Australia hopes some travel will be allowed to continue between the two countries, as the Morrison government considers tough new measures in response to the worsening crisis on the sub-continent.

Cabinet's national security committee is holding an emergency meeting on Tuesday to discuss what medical support Australia can provide to India, as well as further restrictions on flights from the coronavirus-ravaged country.

A temporary halt on all inbound flights is reportedly one option on the table, with Indian recording an average of 320,000 cases a day in the past week.

Daily infections have risen from fewer than 10,000 on February 11 to more than 350,000 in the past 24 hours.

National cabinet has already agreed to slash passenger numbers on flights from India and restrict exemptions for people to leave Australia to travel to high-risk countries.

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India's Acting High Commissioner P.S. Karthigeyan said while he "fully respected" whatever decision Australia took, he was hopeful that some flights would be allowed to continue.

He said Australia's existing border rules had already severely restricted travel between the two countries, which had had "significant impact on the lives" of the local Indian community and family members back home.

"We remain very concerned about the welfare of the diaspora, and this includes the Indian nationals," he told The Canberra Times.

"A big part of that has been the reduction in the connectivity because of the travel restrictions and the border closures.

"People respect fully the decision of the Australian government, [which will be] taken on their own assessment of the situation.

"But we do remain hopeful that some sort of certainty and some sort of minimal connectivity will continue between the two countries. We have very limited connectivity and we hope it will remain."

Leaders in Canberra's Indian community on Monday called on the federal government to speed up the repatriation of the thousands of citizens stranded in India.

Acting Indian High Commissioner Mr. P.S. Karthigeyan. Picture: Supplied

Acting Indian High Commissioner Mr. P.S. Karthigeyan. Picture: Supplied

Mr P.S. Karthigeyan said the High Commission had provided Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade with a list of India's most desperately needed medical supplies, which included oxygen and drugs.

While case numbers and deaths continue to surge in India, the acting High Commissioner was confident the crisis could be "contained very soon". Responding to the crisis was the Indian government's highest priority, he said.

He said it was important to consider case numbers - which now total 17.3 million - in the context of the size of India's population.

"The numbers look a little daunting, if you look at the absolute numbers," he said.

"I think it is also important to look at the context.

"We are looking at a country of over 1,350,000,000 - that is one-sixth of humanity. Just looking at the numbers alone doesn't really give you the picture. But every single life, and every single life lost is very unfortunate."

In a message to Canberra's Indian community, the acting High Commissioner urged his compatriots to support each other.

"I know that our present situation is challenging but I think together we shall prevail," he said.

"My message to them is stand together and look after one another and we shall overcome this challenge."

WA Premier Mark McGowan said flights from India should be suspended because of the "huge pressure" that travellers from the virus hotspot were placing on hotel quarantine across the country.

The four new cases recorded in WA's hotel quarantine on Tuesday were all travellers who had been in India.

They had returned home on a flight from Kuala Lumpur on which 78 of 79 passengers had recently been in India, prompting the premier to predict that more cases would pop up in the coming days.

"We obviously have enormous sympathy for India at the moment, it is obviously a diabolical situation that is going on in India at the moment," he said.

"But it does put extreme pressure on our systems here in WA and indeed in other states."

Labor's foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong called on the federal government to provide urgent assistance to India, saying it was in everyone's interests that the spread of COVID-19 was brought under control.

Senator Wong signalled that Labor would support a decision to halt flights if that was recommended by medical experts.

"The number who are vulnerable and in need of assistance is only likely to grow as this situation worsens," Senator Wong said.

"The Morrison government must provide leadership to protect Australians at home and abroad.

"Some of these Australians have been stranded since borders closed and have been waiting for more than a year for Scott Morrison to show some leadership and act on safe, national quarantine."

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This story 'Concerned for their welfare': Acting Indian High Commissioner hopeful flights can continue first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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