Coronavirus

‘Abandoned’ Aussie dies of virus in India

India’s COVID-19 death toll has topped 230,000 and the country is setting daily case records. Photo: Twitter/@amarpreet_ka

The Australian government “abandoned” a resident to die of coronavirus in India, his daughter says, accusing it of ignoring her pleas to bring him home.

The father of Sydney woman Sonali Ralhan died on Wednesday, days after the Australian government banned flights from India and announced anyone – including citizens – who attempted to defy the new rules would be hit with fines of up to $66,600 or five years in prison, or both.

In an open letter to the prime minister posted on Facebook, Ms Ralhan, an Australian citizen, said she contacted embassy officials in India a few weeks ago with “great hopes” they would help her parents, long-term residents of Australia, return home safely.

Instead, within weeks she would be mourning the death of her father, 59.

“I write to you with so much anger brewing inside me,” she wrote on May 6.

“I am an Australian citizen and highly disappointed to be one today.

“What nation disowns their own citizens? (It) is a matter of wonder for the entire world.”

India’s death toll has topped 230,000 and the country has been setting records each day with the tally of new cases. Hospitals are overwhelmed and oxygen supplies are low.

More than 9000 Australians are in India registered as wanting to return, at least 950 of them registered as vulnerable.

Ms Ralhan says her pleas for help – for repatriation or even assistance in obtaining her father a desperately needed ventilator – were ignored.

Instead of offering any real assistance, consular officials only called Ms Ralhan’s mother periodically to “note down her distressed condition”.

Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne on Friday extended her sympathies to the family, who she did not identify.

“Let me extend my sympathy, and that of the government, to the family of this person and to so many families that we know are dealing with what is an extraordinary challenge, with infection rates surging,” she told 2GB radio.

“There are very many families dealing with this challenge.”

Contacted for comment, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade referred AAP to the minister’s interview.

Australia’s high commissioner to India, Barry O’Farrell, on Friday told a senate committee that DFAT was providing assistance to the family of a permanent resident who had died in India but had not yet confirmed the cause.

However, with the daily infection rate in the country being “greater than the population of Canberra”, he said he did not believe “anyone can put hand on heart” and say no Australians were among the dead.

Labor’s foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong said the deaths were an inevitable result of the government’s broken promise to bring all Australians home by Christmas.

“We said a year ago their situation would become more perilous. That is precisely what has occurred in India,” she told reporters in Brisbane.

“This was always foreseeable, and it is tragic.”

Ms Ralhan’s mother also contracted COVID and has since recovered, but is grief-stricken and isolated from her children and community in Australia.

Ms Ralhan is now calling for the federal government to intervene and bring her home.

“All I have left is my mother, who has been abandoned by her own government of Australia, with no way to come back to her children.

“We all want to cry our hearts out, but we are saving them for when we are all together again.

“With your current actions, there is not much to expect, but all I ask is to bring my mother home and gather the broken pieces of our souls together.”

Tiffanie Turnbull – Australian Associated Press

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