An Australian permanent resident has died in India after contracting COVID-19, says his daughter, as the country continues to shatter records for new deaths and cases of the virus.
Sydney woman Sonali Ralhan says her father died on Wednesday in a small private New Delhi hospital after contracting coronavirus, three days after the federal government enacted a controversial India travel ban and made it temporarily illegal for citizens and permanent residents stranded there to come home.
Her father, 59, became a permanent resident of Australia more than 10 years ago, and often travelled back to India where he managed a hotel in New Delhi.
Because of his frequent business travel, he hadn’t spent enough time in Australia to qualify for citizenship, but planned to apply. Ms Ralhan, her brother, and her mother already qualified and are Australian citizens.
Ms Ralhan revealed her father’s death in a Facebook post on Thursday that she addressed to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, saying she was “highly disappointed” to be an Australian citizen.
Ms Ralhan also said her mother, who has recovered from COVID-19, remains stranded in India due to the travel ban.
“It is with a very heavy heart and pain I need to inform you that my father has left us,” she wrote on Facebook.
“Now all I have left is my mother, who has been abandoned by her own government of Australia.
“We all want to cry our hearts out, but we are saving them for when we are all together again.”
She told SBS News her parents travelled to India late last year and both had been unable to book flights to return ever since.
Ms Ralhan, who would not release her father’s name due to privacy concerns, says he saw reports of Australia’s ban on its own citizens returning from India in his dying days.
“My father was still conscious and he heard the news. He got the email from the Australian government regarding the new rule and everything. He was sick, and in that condition, receiving this news really panicked him,” she said.
“Then his conditioned kept on deteriorating.”
In the Senate’s COVID-19 inquiry on Friday, Australia’s High Commissioner to India Barry O’Farrell said the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade was providing consular assistance to the family of an Australian permanent resident who had reportedly died in the country.
“The department’s aware and providing consular assistance in accordance with its charter to the family of an Australian permanent resident who reportedly has died in India, and I’m advised that owing to our privacy obligations we won’t be providing any further comment,” he said, adding that local authorities were yet to confirm the circumstances.
SBS News has confirmed the reported death is in the same family.
Talking to 2GB on Friday, Foreign Minister Marise Payne extended her sympathies to the family, who she did not name.
“Let me extend my sympathy, and that of the government, to the family of this person and to so many families that we know are dealing with what is an extraordinary challenge, with infection rates surging,” she said.
“There are very many families dealing with this challenge.”
India recorded another record daily rise in coronavirus cases of 414,188 on Friday, while deaths rose by 3,915, according to India’s health ministry data.
The country’s total coronavirus infections have passed 21 million.
Ms Ralhan said the family was left to acquire oxygen and medicines for her father in his dying days.
“Each and every oxygen cylinder was paid by us, which was a constant battle. Even finding one oxygen cylinder in Delhi right now is a miracle,” she said,
“I just feel, the Indian medical system is failing at the moment.”
She said the family had called the Australian High Commission in India a few times for help, but there was not much they could do.
“My mum had talked to them a few times, to ask if there’s anything that they can do, because at one point my father really needed a ventilator and we couldn’t find it anywhere,” she said.
“We contacted the embassy in a desperate situation, but all they could say was ‘we’re really sorry, but we cannot do anything’. They just said they could keep checking on my mum and informing me.”
The federal government announced on Friday it would not be extending its controversial travel ban, and flights for Australian citizens and permanent residents stranded in India would resume from 15 May.
DFAT has been contacted for comment.