India flight ban leaves some Calgarians stranded in the COVID-ravaged country

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When Gurlal Gill left Calgary last month to visit his dying mother in India, he didn’t know how dire the country’s COVID-19 situation would become.

Now, Gill, his brother and his wife are stranded in India’s Punjab state after Canada banned all flights from the country on April 22 due to a rapid spike in cases in India.

India has reported upwards of 400,000 daily cases of the virus in recent days, spread driven by the “double mutant” B.1.617 variant; one case of this variant has been found in Alberta. The surge has toppled India’s health-care system and led to an oxygen shortage.

“We’re stuck here, and we’ve been trying to come back home to Calgary as soon as possible,” Gill said. “My mom passed away on the 10th. We were done with (funeral arrangements) after the 20th, and we tried to come back, but then Canada stopped the flights.

“I don’t know what to do.”

Gill, a Canadian citizen, said his dad remains in India, creating concerns about what would happen if his health deteriorated as COVID-19 continues to spread in the country. Meanwhile, he’s also worried about his job back home.

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“The biggest thing is that our hospitals are full. If he gets sick, we know he can’t go to the hospital,” Gill said. “I’m worried about my dad. We just want to get back to Calgary, because we don’t have any trust in India. The hospital has no oxygen.”

Calgary couple Gurbhajan and Rajvir Dhillon have been anxiously watching the situation in India as Gurbhajan’s parents remain in the city of Moga, unable to fly to Calgary to be with their family.

The parents are medically frail, leading to concerns about what would happen if they contracted COVID-19. If the worst happened, Rajvir said there’s no guarantee the hospitals would be able to care for them.

Those stuck in India with legitimate reasons to travel to Canada should be allowed to do so, she argued.

“I think they should restart one or two flights,” Rajvir said. “We should at least have emergency flights going home, even though we know the situation is very hard.

“They should have to ask, why are you going. Some people might have just gone for fun, and they should be stopped.”

Those sentiments were echoed by Gill, who asked the Canadian government to consider arranging flights to repatriate those stranded abroad, as occurred during the first wave of the pandemic last spring.

He said his family is more than willing to isolate for as long as is required upon their return to Canada, saying others are also in the same situation.

“So many people I know very well, people in our circle, are also stuck here,” Gill said. “We have to get out from here.”

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