Canberra's Indian community leaders have called on the federal government to urgently help their coronavirus-ravaged homeland and the Australian citizens stranded there, as the worsening crisis engulfing the country reverberates through to the nation's capital.
The Morrison government is set to offer medical supplies, but is also considering further restrictions on flights from India.
Federation of Indian Associations of the ACT president Sunita Dhindsa said if flights were temporarily halted, as has been speculated, her community would want assurances that when travel resumed the government would speed up efforts to return the approximately 9000 Australian citizens still stranded on the sub-continent.
"I think the government's intention is to protect the [Australian] people and I totally understand that," Dr Dhinsa said.
"But somewhere the government needs to think about those 9000 people. What about them? For how long do they have to continue to face this?"
India is in the grips of devastating surge in coronavirus cases beyond anything witnessed in the pandemic, with the number of infections rising beyond 300,000 a day in the past week.
The skyrocketing caseload has overwhelmed the health system, creating shortages of oxygen and other medial supplies.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said cabinet's national security committee would meet on Tuesday to consider how Australia could support India through what he described as a "humanitarian and health crisis on an unimaginable scale".
Mr Hunt indicated Australia would be able to provide ventilators to a country he said was "literally gasping for oxygen".
National cabinet last week agreed to reduce flights from India and tighten criteria for people leaving Australia to travel to high-risk countries, as it tries to shield the nation's hotel quarantine system from the strain of a spike in new infections.
Mr Hunt has signalled further restrictions on travel to and from India could be announced following Tuesday's national security committee meeting, with a temporary ban on all incoming flights reportedly on the table.
"If additional measures are recommended, we will take them with the heaviest of hearts but without any hesitation," he said.
"We remember the agony that our own Indian community is faced with, and I think it's very important that we are sensitive to the suffering that they face and their friends and their families and their loved ones overseas."
The crisis has caused shock, distress and a collective feeling of helplessness in Canberra's large Indian community.
"We are all very worried and concerned," Dr Dhindsa said.
"It is almost a feeling of helplessness that we can't do much. It is actually making us very sad, particularly when it all seems so close to you."
Dr Dhindsa said members of the local Indian community felt a strong pull to return home to support loved ones, which has been made more difficult, if not impossible, by the restrictions.
"Indian families are close-knit families," she said.
"You want to be there for them [family]. It is a call of duty, a call of love. No matter how difficult it is, people will want to do that [return home]."
Deepak Raj-Gupta, a Canberra India Council patron and the first Indian elected to the ACT Legislative Assembly, said the situation in India was "grim".
With crematoriums and burial grounds overwhelmed, Mr Gupta said people had been forced to cremate the bodies of their dead family members on the street and in carparks.
The ex-ACT Labor parliamentarian called on the Australian government to "take the lead" and offer oxygen supplies and vaccine doses to India, as well as arrange extra repatriation flights.
He also urged his fellow Australians to refrain for calling for a blanket ban on arrivals from India, saying it was "adding salt to the wounds".
"There are people saying don't bring Indians back here. Well, COVID-19 is not only happening in India," he said.
Shadow minister for foreign affairs Penny Wong said Australia should be working closely with India.
"India is facing a desperate situation. Australia should be working closely with the Indian government to determine how we can best help," she said.
"It's in all of our interests to ensure our region gets the spread of COVID-19 under control and Australia should be doing all we can to assist in that effort."
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