Infection and death rates are soaring in the vast country of 1.3 billion, in contrast with the United States and some European nations which are taking tentative steps back towards normal life.The virus has now killed more than 3.1 million people worldwide, with India driving the latest surge, recording 360,000 new infections — a global record — and more than 3,000 deaths on Wednesday.Russia will deliver emergency aid to coronavirus-hit India, President Vladimir Putin told Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a phone call Wednesday, the Kremlin said.India has become the global epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic, recording 360,000 new infections — a world record — and more than 3,000 deaths on Wednesday.“Vladimir Putin expressed words of support to Narendra Modi in this difficult period in the fight against the spread of the coronavirus infection and informed him about the decision to provide India with emergency humanitarian aid,” the Kremlin said in a statement.It added that the Russian deliveries will include “20 units of equipment for the production of oxygen, 75 artificial lung ventilation devices, 150 medical monitors and 200,000 packages of medicines”.The Kremlin said Modi “warmly thanked the President of Russia for the assistance provided, which is largely of a high-tech nature and is in great demand in the country”.The Russian news agency RIA Novosti cited the trade and industry ministry as saying that the 200,000 medicine packages would be favipiravir, an antiviral medication.The news agency also cited the emergencies ministry as saying that two transport planes would carry the “more than 22 tonnes (48,500 pounds) of medical equipment” from Russia to India.In the capital New Delhi, car parks have been converted to crematoriums and the soaring body count has sparked a shortage of wood for funeral pyres.Desperate relatives of the sick are crowding outside hospitals and pharmacies in search of treatment and medicines, often in vain.Arriving in cars, rickshaws and ambulances, patients and their families desperate for oxygen flocked to a tent outside a Sikh place of worship on the outskirts of the capital this week.Priyanka Mandal, 30, had been searching for oxygen for her mother since she became sick a week ago.“Medicines are also not available… I’ve visited five, six big medical stores,” she told AFP.“No matter how much time it takes, I have to wait here… I only have my mum.”A variant of the virus feared to be contributing to the catastrophic wave in India has now been found in more than a dozen countries, the World Health Organization said on Tuesday.Many nations have rushed to help, sending desperately needed oxygen and aid. As part of the global effort, Singapore said on Wednesday it had sent two plane-loads of oxygen supplies.India also appears to be a leading contender for some of the millions of AstraZeneca vaccine doses the United States has said it will export.And Ugur Sahin, the co-founder of BioNTech, said the vaccine his company jointly developed with Pfizer appears to protect against the Indian variant.“We are still testing the Indian variant, but the Indian variant has mutations that we have already tested for and which our vaccine works against, so I am confident,” said Sahin.TRAVEL LOOPHOLE AS INDIANS PLEAD TO AUSSIES FOR CASHPeople in COVID-ravaged India could still escape back to Australia by transiting through hubs in Qatar or China, it can be revealed.There are now nearly 20 countries that have banned flights from India, including Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, France, Canada, the UAE, US and UK.But Qatar and mainland China have not implemented bans, and flights from those countries were arriving in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane airports yesterday and more are expected over coming days.Passengers on those flights will be subject to mandatory hotel quarantine like all international arrivals. When asked about this apparent loophole, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade simply referred News Corp to the Prime Minister’s statements on Tuesday.In those comments, the Prime Minister said popular transit hubs the UAE, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur had all paused flights from India, but he did not address the issue of countries which had not implemented bans.Meanwhile the Australian High Commission in New Delhi said the Australian government was “working around the clock on commercial charter options” to get stranded Australians out of India.Qantas is just one airline in negotiations with the government about charter arrangements, with the High Commission posting on its website that it was “pursuing a number of options with airlines”.Qantas has flown more than 200 repatriation flights since the COVID-19 pandemic, mostly from Europe and the US. Four more had been planned from India before the suspension of all flights this week.Qantas has been running repatriation flights throughout the pandemic, since its first emergency airlift from Wuhan on February 2, 2020. The repatriation flights are on the airline’s 787 Dreamliners, which have a total seating capacity of 230, but the number of passengers for each chartered flight is determined by the government rather than the airline, based on quarantine capacity at the destination. The government also decides who gets a seat. Qantas operates the flights on a cost recovery basis but seats on any upcoming repatriation flights are expected to cost passengers around $2000.All of Qantas’s repatriation flights have been crewed by cabin attendants who volunteer for the roles, and all services are direct to Australia, to reduce risk of transmission at stopovers.NED-3691-Indias-Covid-19-NightmareQantas is also in discussions with the government about flying planes over to India carrying humanitarian aid items, but no passengers.A number of tour companies are still advertising charter services from India to Australia, despite the uncertainty over future arrangements.Mann Travel has a charter flight from Delhi to Adelaide and Perth booked for May 21, while Gaura Travel advised on its customer newsletter yesterday that “All our flights are open and operating,” with an advertised departure date from India of May 14. The government has said it will review its pause on flights by May 15.Air India had been flying between Sydney and Delhi once a week for most of 2021, but its most recent flight was sent back to Delhi on Monday with freight only after a cabin crew member tested positive for COVID-19. AUSSIES DIGGING DEEP FOR INDIA Desperate Indians are appealing to middle-class Australians to fund online doctor consultations, medicines, mobile testing labs, oxygen and ambulances in COVID-19 ravaged India.Diaspora communities around Australia are hoping to raise enough money to send supplies initially in the densely populated cities of Delhi, Hyderabad and Gujarat which have been the worst affected.A GoFundMe page has been launched by Jamia Milia Islamia (JMI) Alumni Association of Victoria which almost reached its $10,000 target in the first few hours.Syed Asif Hasan, the President of the association also asked for Muslim Indians to dig deep during Ramadan.“I sincerely appeal to all of you to generously donate to the established fundraising campaign to help those in need. You may want to consider using zakat funds as well if you think it’s appropriate,” he wrote on the GoFundMe page.Sajjad Zaheer from the Association’s NSW chapter door stop services are one of the greatest needs in India, so that people can isolate at home and not forced to go out, Mr Zaheer said.The CEO of the Indian Link Media Group in Australia, Pawan Luthra said he is receiving up to 500 messages a day from friends and families in India asking for help.“All are asking can you help us get a hospital bed? Can you help us get into ICU? Can you organise oxygen tanks for us? And where do I get medicines?” said Mr Luthra. “These are the people who can afford to call up friends overseas and people of influence, what about the unfortunate millions who have no access to any proper health system?”Mr Luthra said the local Indian Australian communities are galvanising funds to buy equipment from Singapore and airlift them to India. “Nonresident Indians are building up a war chest of a few million dollars to buy things to help the Indian system get back on its feet.”NED-3679-Indias-Mutant-Covid-19Mr Luthra said one of the common denominators is that people want to reach out directly to hospitals and not to a centralised fund. “They want things to move more quickly.”He said after an initial numbness and shock in the community, people have sprung into action in the past 24 hours.“We are helpless really …. The only thing we can offer to share is our money,” he said.“People do want to contribute and we are seeing a lot of kindness and not just from the Indian community from other Australians as well. “The Indian population in Australia has grown 11 per cent to 660,000 in the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics figures and people born in India now comprise 2.6 per cent of the Australian population.The Indian Consul General in Sydney has already warned Indians in Australia not to travel back to India.“We are aware some of our citizens and students wish to return to India. For the present please stay put wherever you are in view of the ongoing restrictions that are aimed at ensuring the larger public good,” the message from the Consulate said.The Consulate General of India in Sydney has set up a COVID-19 hotline for Indians in Australia and for those seeking information about the situation. The number is on their website.
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