High Commissioner ‘confident’ India flights will resume after temporary pause, despite ‘grim’ case numbers
Australia’s High Commissioner to India and former NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell has described the harrowing scenes of India’s COVID-19 crisis as “pretty grim” as the country alarmingly clocks 290 new cases every minute.
Speaking to Today from New Dehli, Mr O’Farrell said it was relatively safe inside an embassy compound, but outside those protected walls it was like disaster had struck.
“It’s been a grim day overnight for India – 412,000 new infections, something like 290 every minute,” he said.
“Of course, regrettably last night almost 4000 people died. That’s a significant challenge. More than three million people have now died as a result of this pandemic.”
The Australian Government has “temporarily paused” flights from the coronavirus-ravaged country until at least May 15, with threats of criminal sanctions for anyone who flouts the travel ban.
Mr O’Farrell today said he is “confident” about flights from India resuming in mid-May.
“The Department of Foreign Affairs and other government agencies are doing everything they can to ensure that people who are vulnerable in India can get home,” he said.
“I’m an optimist, I’m looking forward to the resumption of flights and looking forward to a concerted effort to reduce the numbers here in India.
“Certainly that’s what those Australians in India keen to get home would like to see.”
Mr O’Farrell shut down suggestions of “political blow-back” from the Indian government since Australia temporarily banned flights.
“I think India understands that national governments make decisions that suit their interests,” he said.
“The prime minister said last week this temporary pause was intended to help strengthen the quarantine system, to try and put a pause in the increasing rates of infections being noticed in these quarantine centres, but more importantly the impact that potentially could have on the adjacent health facilities.”
Vulnerable Indian-Australians will get priority on repatriation flights once they resume, Mr O’Farrell confirmed.
He said the number of vulnerable people in India had increased from 600 to 900 over the past week.
But there were “signs” of falling infection numbers in the country’s two largest cities of Mumbai and New Dehli, Mr O’Farrell said.
In good news, 8.6 tonnes of vital medical equipment, oxygen concentrators and more than 1000 ventilators have arrived in India from countries around the world.
“The fact is that the globe is once again responding to a humanitarian crisis here in India, and they are doing so in part because of India’s great efforts earlier this year in providing 66 million doses of vaccines to more than 70 countries around the world free of charge,” he said.
Reminded about Mother’s Day, Mr O’Farrell said he had regrettably “forgotten” amid the chaos and paid tribute to families who have loved ones in India.
“I particularly feel sorry for the Australians of Indian origin whose family and loved ones, including elderly mothers, are in India at this time,” he said.