India's high commissioner hopes flights resume 'as soon as possible'

People with COVID-19 symptoms queue for an Antigen Test at a government hospital in Kolkata. Picture: Getty Images
People with COVID-19 symptoms queue for an Antigen Test at a government hospital in Kolkata. Picture: Getty Images

India's top diplomat in Canberra hopes Australia's pause on flights from his coronavirus-ravaged homeland will be lifted as soon as possible, declaring "the earlier it comes back the better it will be for both sides".

India's acting high commissioner P.S. Karthigeyan has also revealed that prior to the temporary travel ban his mission had been lobbying the Australian government to increase flights between the countries, in an attempt to help retrieve international students desperate return to Australia.

Mr P.S. Karthigeyan spoke with The Canberra Times after Prime Minister Scott Morrison this week announced flights from India would be suspended until at least May 15, in response to the worsening crisis on the sub-continent.

India reported a new global pandemic record of 360,000 infections in the most recent 24-hour period, as well as almost 3,300 deaths.

In what Mr Morrison has described as a "terrible humanitarian crisis", India's hospitals have been stretched beyond capacity and crematoriums and burial grounds overwhelmed as the country's total caseload surges toward 18 million.

India's acting high commissioner P.S. Karthigeyan. Picture: Supplied

India's acting high commissioner P.S. Karthigeyan. Picture: Supplied

While he understood and respected Australia's decision, Mr P.S. Karthigeyan reiterated that he had wanted some flights from India to continue, even if passenger numbers were severely limited.

The acting high commissioner is now hoping the pause won't be prolonged.

"We hope that the connectivity will be restored as soon as possible," he said. "It doesn't really help those stranded on both sides."

Mr P.S. Karthigeyan said the "major grievance" received by the high commission in recent months had been from students enrolled in local universities, who had been left stranded in India because of Australia's strict border rules. Some of the students had been stuck overseas, and therefore unable to resume on-campus learning, for more than a year.

He said the mission had been lobbying the federal government for "some kind of increase in connectivity" between the two countries, before the flight ban was announced this week.

Mr P.S. Karthigeyan was hopeful the proposal could be revived once it was deemed safe to restart flights, as he highlighted the economic and humanitarian benefits of bringing visa and passport holders back to Australia.

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"The earlier it comes back the better it will be for both sides," he said.

The acting high commissioner also thanked the Morrison government for providing India with desperately needed medical supplies at a "critical juncture" in its pandemic response, including ventilators, surgical masks, PPE, goggles, gloves and face shields.

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This story 'Better for both sides': India's high commissioner hopes flights resume soon first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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