A Winnipeg family is pleading for help to get home from India, as the country battles a shocking surge in COVID-19 cases and a collapsing health-care system.
“We are totally stuck in India,” Amandeep Sran said from Chandigarh, a city about 250 kilometres north of New Delhi.
“My kids are not feeling safe — the number of cases [in India] are growing really fast,” she said.
Sran travelled to India in December to help care for a family member who needed surgery. She went along with her husband and two children, ages five and 13, and her 69-year-old mother.
The family was originally supposed to return to Canada in March, but postponed their flight home because of the mandatory hotel quarantines imposed on international travellers coming to Canada at the end of February.
Instead, Sran’s husband, Manjinder Chahal, returned alone, hoping the hotel quarantine order would be relaxed in a few weeks and the rest of the family would then return.
But on April 22, Canada banned all direct flights from India and Pakistan because of the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the region.
India reported 357,229 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, bringing its total since the start of the pandemic to over 20.2 million — second only to the United States.
Another 3,449 deaths from COVID-19 were reported Tuesday, bringing India’s death toll from the illness to 222,408.
But a recent report suggests even those numbers may be a severe undercount, as the country’s health-care system nears collapse.
Hospitals are running out of beds and oxygen. Mass cremations are taking place nightly.
Canada’s travel ban is supposed to be in effect for 30 days. Chahal fears it will carry on longer and the situation in India will only get worse.
“When I look at the news, what’s going on in India, I feel really worried,” said Chahal, who fears for his family. “I want to have them back here.”
3rd country travel not an option for family
The family says they’ve looked for alternate ways to get home, but there are few flights to other countries, from which they could then fly to Canada.
There are other obstacles due to regional travel restrictions. Among those is Canada’s requirement that air passengers who depart from India or Pakistan, but arrive in Canada via a third country, produce a negative COVID-19 test result taken at their last point of departure before being allowed to enter this country.
Sran says travelling to another country is not an option.
“I’m not feeling safe with my two kids and my mom to go to another country first and who knows what happens. I want to come directly to my home country,” she said.
The family is pleading for the Canadian government to make arrangements for Canadian citizens and permanent residents to travel home.
“Help us to get out — at least those who are with kids and with older people here,” said Sran. “They are not safe.”
Travel not advised: Global Affairs
A spokesperson with Global Affairs Canada said while their thoughts are with the people of India during this wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, their priority is the safety of Canadians.
“Assisted departure from India to Canada is not being considered,” Global Affairs spokesperson Jason Chung said in an emailed statement.
“The government has indicated on numerous occasions that it could implement further travel restrictions on very short notice,” the statement said, noting that the Canadian government has advised against non-essential travel outside the country since March 2020.
But Chahal, whose family came to Canada in 2006 and are now Canadian citizens, thinks the government could be doing more to help them.
“Just leaving those Canadian citizens in India I don’t think is a good idea,” he said.
The family says they’re willing to quarantine at a hotel, for even longer than required, if they can come directly home.
“Mr. Trudeau, please think about us,” Sran asked the prime minister.
“Think about all the citizens and all the kids. We want to go back home. Please help us.”
WATCH | Winnipeg family pleads for help to get home from India: