Indian Australians attempting to return to Australia are facing more uncertainty, financial turmoil and prolonged separation from their families after the federal government announced tougher flight restrictions.
Scott Morrison announced on Thursday that Australia would cut the number of flights from India by almost a third and place heavy restrictions on outbound passengers. People leaving Australia for India will be required to prove urgent circumstances, the PM said.
Inbound passengers who have been in high-risk countries like India will need to have a negative Covid test 72 hours prior to getting on a plane to Australia.
Nitin Shukla, president of the Council of Indian Australians, said the new restrictions had caused deep uncertainty for the community. There was no timeframe when the restrictions would be lifted and no guarantee stricter measures weren’t on the horizon.
Shukla said flights out of India to Australia were already exceedingly difficult to book.
“It’s a very tough situation,” he said. “I can give you an example of myself. My father passed away last year. I’m trying to call my mother. I haven’t seen her or anything, I couldn’t do that because I couldn’t get a flight for her.”
The situation had caused financial distress to many Indian Australians, Shukla said, whose families have been split between the two countries for months.
“It’s impacted them so much, they’ve been waiting for such a long time to come through,” he said.
“It’s impacting them not only just with their families, but also financially, economically they’ve been heavily impacted because they went in certain circumstances, leaving everything behind, they couldn’t pay their rent or whatever for a very long time.
“At the moment what they are feeling is ‘What is going to happen? How long is this going to go for?’ That is uncertain at the moment, there’s no certainty, there’s no timeframe, there is no deadlines. Nothing at all.”
The situation in India is deteriorating rapidly. In the past 24 hours, the country reported 314,835 new cases of coronavirus. That is the highest daily increase recorded anywhere during the pandemic.
Deaths rose by 2,104 to a total of 184,657, according to the country’s health ministry.
Australia has already seen the impact of India’s second wave. Hotel quarantine outbreaks in Perth and Howard Springs have been associated with transmission by returned travellers from India. The federal government says between 10 and 40% of cases being reported in hotel quarantine are associated with returning travellers from India.
Sushma Ahluwalia, head of the Australian Hindi Indian Association, said she understood the need for the added restrictions.
The situation in India, she said, was dire and the measures would help protect Australians.
“Whatever is good for all Australians, they’ve got to take that step. What can you do?” she said. “It’s temporary … it’s just for the time being and the situation is very, very bad. I’m sure it will improve. They will lift it up.”
India is not the only nation targeted by the restrictions. Travellers from high-risk countries will all face restricted travel and pre-boarding Covid-19 testing requirements. The countries that meet the definition of “high-risk” will probably resemble the United Kingdom’s “red list”, which currently includes India, South Africa, Argentina, Brazil, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Morrison was asked on Thursday whether Australians in India would view the government as having abandoned them.
“It doesn’t reflect that at all,” he said. “It reflects that we’re in the middle of a global pandemic that is raging. And Australia has been successful throughout this pandemic, working together with the states and territories, to have very effective border arrangements.”