Australian mother flying to coronavirus-hit India to rescue her baby girl

Australian mother flying to coronavirus-hit India to rescue her baby girl

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Australian mother flying to coronavirus-hit India to rescue her baby girl

By

James Oaten

Swetha Maram says her daughter has been living with her grandparents.

Melbourne mum Swetha Maram is on a rescue mission. As hundreds of stranded Australians in India plead for help to return back to Australia, she isg going the other way: flying into Bangalore to be reunited with her 20-month-old daughter.

• Two charter flights will help Indians stranded in Australia get home

• About 6,000 Indians were in Australia when the country was suddenly locked down

• Australians still stuck in India say it is nearly impossible to get home as there are no flights operating. Australian has to give clearance for each special flight from India to Australis.

“I am feeling so happy,” Ms Maram told the ABC, as she waited to board her flight.

“I want my baby, to hold her in my hands. It’s been more than five months now.”

Ms Maram took her daughter Naomika to India in January so she could spend some time with her grandparents there.

She returned to Australia for work and had planned to head back to Bangalore to collect her daughter. But in March, India ordered a lock down with just a weeks notice.

Suddenly, there was no way in or out.

“We requested the Australuan Government to approve any one of my family members to get my baby back to Australia. But they didn’t agree to that,” she said.

“That’s the reason I have to push myself to get approval to fly back to India to get my baby back.”
Bangalore, India’s high-tech hub, was fairing relatively well under India’s lockdown, with only around 1,000 cases by mid-June.

Swetha Maram brought her daughter to India to see her grandparents.

But cases surged as the country opened up and more than 20,000 infections were reported this week, prompting the city to go back into lockdown.

By the time Ms Maram arrives, there will be no way home in the foreseeable future. She is leaving behind her husband and son in Australia while she goes to rescue Naomika.

“I’m facing a difficult situation of not having my wife with me. I’m a bit worried and scared,” her husband Sunil Maram said.

“I’m very much concerned about the number of increasing infections in India. I don’t know when it’s going to come to an end.” Though cases in Australia too have suddenly exploded and gone out of control.

The flight Ms Maram boarded to Bangalore is not an official repatriation flight.

Naomika Reddy (left) has been staying with her grandparents in India since her mother Swetha Maram was locked out of the country because of its flight ban on all normal flights, just as Australia has banned all normal flights in and out.

It is one of two charter flights which will help some of the 6,000 Indians who were stranded in Australia when pandemic restrictions were implemented.

One of the flight organisers, Arun Sharma, said the passengers had been in Australia for a variety of reasons and were caught off guard by both Indian and Australian sudden lockdown.

“Tourism, education, meeting their families. Unfortunately they got stuck. Some of them have very emotional stories,” Mr Sharma said.

Mr Sharma was part of a group of Sydneysiders who organised a series of private flights to rescue to help stranded Australians in India in April.

After the last successful mission, they were bombarded with messages from Indians stuck in Australia pleading for help.

He said a “feeling of community service” compelled him to organise charter flights going in the opposite direction of the first ones.

“All these people are asking you to book the flights and help them out,” he said.

“But when you do it, half of them come forward and the other half will say, ‘Are you real? Is this not a scam?’.”

Both India and Australia was abruptly placed under lockdown in March, when confirmed cases of coronavirus passed 500.

Like the flights to Australia, Mr Sharma and his team gave priority seating to those with special needs, such as the elderly, those with underlying health conditions, and pregnant women.

“I’ve seen there are still a lot of Australians still there in India, especially [in] the south,” he said.

“If there is a need, I’ll definitely put my hand up and try and help.”

Many Australians took charter flights before the Australian Government organised 13 flights with Qatar Airways and Qantas in April and May.

Australia arranged flights in April and May to help citizens stranded in India.

Since then, the Australian Government has relied on a series of Air India flights the Indian Government organised for repatriation.

More than 7,600 Australians have left India since March, but Australians Still left in India say supply has fallen far short of demand.

Tickets sell out within minutes and there are multiple reports of Indian travel agents buying seats and trying to sell them at a profit.

A months-long ban on internal Indian travel, including domestic flights, also complicated the problem, as most repatriation flights departed from a few major cities such as Delhi and Mumbai.

Five flights to Melbourne and Sydney have now been cancelled, in the wake of Victoria abruptly halting all international flights to Melbourne amid the state’s second outbreak and bungles over hotel quarantine.

No date has been set by the Australian Government for commercial flights to Australia resuming.
Perth mother Kamaljit Kaur is stuck in Punjab with her teenage son, who is in year 11, while her husband is back in Perth.

Kamaljit Kaur says she is worried about her son Ashim missing school while they are stranded in Punjab.

She has now had two flights to Australia cancelled as per

“I am going through depression. Even my son is going through depression. He is so upset,” Ms Kaur said.

“I cried yesterday. It’s so hard staying without family. It’s so hard staying alone. I don’t know how long it will take to come back to our home.”
She pleaded with Australian authorities to resume flights.

“I am happy to pay for quarantine,” she said.

“I am happy to pay more for the flight. But I just want to come back with my son. The conditions are getting worse every day.”
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