- The National Security Committee of Cabinet will meet today to discuss the situation in India
- Australia is considering sending supplies of oxygen and ventilators
- Community leaders have urged the government to do everything it can to help
Senior government ministers are meeting today to discuss how to help the struggling country navigate a record wave of COVID infections.
The Indian health system is at breaking point from the country’s second deadly COVID-19 wave, with horrific scenes of overwhelmed hospitals, unable to cope with the rush of patients.
Some people are dying in the streets while waiting to be seen by a doctor, and oxygen supplies are critically low.
So far, more than 17 million people in India have contracted coronavirus.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison will today convene a meeting of the National Security Committee of Cabinet to discuss any assistance for India, as well as any extra steps that may need to be taken to minimise the risk of infections spreading to Australia.
Ms Andrews, who sits on the committee, has told Channel Nine the meeting will consider how to help the 8,000 Australians in India who are trying to return.
“Our primary responsibility is to keep Australians safe and secure, so that is our overarching responsibility,” she said.
Last week, National Cabinet announced there would be a 30 per cent reduction in flights from India — both commercial and government-organised repatriation flights — after a spike in cases in returned travellers.
Ms Andrews would not pre-empt whether the NSC would recommend further travel restrictions, saying decisions would be based on medical advice.
“Clearly the situation in India is absolutely devastating, hundreds of thousands of new cases each day, multiple deaths, it’s just an awful situation,” she said.
“As you would be aware, we have already made changes to flights coming into Australia … and I’m sure that there will be a broad range of discussions today about what the future action may need to be.”
An Australian resident stranded in India said he was heartbroken at the prospect of further restrictions being placed on flights to Australia.
Vamshidhar Parepalli returned to India last year to care for his mother.
He said he hoped to return to Australia soon, but the difficulty in leaving India was making him reconsider.
“I was dreaming of making a life, a livelihood there,” he said.
“But now it’s like totally changed.”
‘We cannot achieve this individually’
Indian-Australian community leaders have urged the federal government to do everything it can to help.
“This is unprecedented times right now back in India,” the President of the Federation of Indian Associations of Victoria, Sury Soni, said.
“We should help, cooperate and give whatever support we can.
“We share our shared wisdom and contribute towards helping each other because we cannot achieve this individually.”
India’s deputy High Commissioner to Australia, Subramanyan Karthigeyan, said India needed all the help it could get given the “magnitude” of the outbreak and the size of the country.
“Of course the supply that’s coming from abroad, from Australia and from the UK, is not going to completely take care of the requirements, but it’ll certainly help and is a valuable input at this time,” he said.
Mr Karthigeyan said he was glad to see other countries supporting India, given it had stepped in to deliver vaccines to more than 150 countries when they needed it.
Federal Opposition leader Anthony Albanese told the ABC’s RN Breakfast the situation in India reinforced the need for secure quarantine facilities.
Peak health bodies and Labor have been calling on the Commonwealth to establish different quarantine facilities, arguing hotels aren’t fit-for-purpose.
“We know the issue of housing people in CBD hotels doesn’t make sense, compared with making sure appropriate facilities are put in place,” Mr Albanese said.
“The situation in India is desperate.