Amanda Hodge in The Australian, 28 April 2021, where the titleruns thus: “India Covid crisis: Aussie family’s last-gasp sanctuary”
With a second wave of COVID-19 ravaging India and all escape routes to Australia closed for his Hyderabad-based family of four, Melbourne-born school principal Andrew Nicholson says he feels lucky his wife’s birth country of Sri Lanka at least will take them in.
The couple, both high school teachers, and their two teenaged children plan to head to Colombo under Sri Lanka’s family repatriation scheme as soon as the school term ends next month to ride out the worst of a voracious new strain that has left India literally gasping for breath.
Across the country, people are dying in their thousands each day for lack of oxygen, some outside the gates of hospitals now collapsing under the strain of a pandemic that has infected almost two million people in less than a week.
Mr Nicholson, 51, says in his school alone — which is based on a vast international agricultural research campus — 10 out of 60 teachers have either had COVID or nursed someone in their house who has.
Last week, the school’s long-time printer died of the virus.
Back in Melbourne, Mr Nicholson’s 81-year-old father is battling Alzheimer’s disease and was recently hospitalised for a back injury.
Watching his deterioration from afar has been difficult and Mr Nicholson is anxious to see him, but doubts that will happen any time soon. “I haven’t been to Australia for 18 months and I would like to get there but as a family I just don’t think it’s going to be possible, not the way things are at the moment anyway and the way the government is handling things,” he said.
“There‘s another Australian teacher at the school who is desperate to get home to Canberra but can’t. “I’m not particularly happy with Australian politicians and government, the way they have left Australians stranded without any real communication or thought about how people can get home.”
Even if the cost was not prohibitive — they would be looking at well over $20,000 for a family of four to fly one way and then quarantine — knowing his country has closed its doors to him at such a time is unsettling, to say the least.
“Most of our other Australian friends who were living here got out a year or so ago (during the first COVID wave) and are all back in Australia now,” he said.
The Nicholsons also considered leaving but decided to stay because they both had jobs with the school and, unlike many millions of others in India, have the luxury of green space and social distancing where they live on campus.
Plus, he adds; “Finding new jobs in Australia in the middle of COVID would have been impossible.”
That decision has not been without complications. Mr Nicholson suffers from asthma while his British national wife Champa has high blood pressure — complaints that put them both in the high risk category for severe COVID.
They managed to get their first jab of Covishield, the Indian-produced AstraZeneca, last month and were due to get their second shot soon “but I don’t think that’s going to happen because they have run out of vaccines.
“If you get COVID here, you have to really hope you have a strong immune system because there is no oxygen, no ventilators. The hospitals are full.”
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