Expats in N.L. wait and watch helplessly as COVID-19 ravages India

·3 min read
Mini Nair, who lives in Newfoundland, says friends and family are stranded in India, unable to return to Canada — or even leave their homes — due to a surge in COVID-19 infections in the region. (Heather Gillis/CBC - image credit)
Mini Nair, who lives in Newfoundland, says friends and family are stranded in India, unable to return to Canada — or even leave their homes — due to a surge in COVID-19 infections in the region. (Heather Gillis/CBC - image credit)

Mini Nair sees her parents every day. She watches them roam from kitchen to couch, restless and wondering when they can leave the house.

But connecting to her elderly mother and father through a video feed — as the worst COVID-19 outbreak to date swirls around them — does little to assuage her anxiety.

"If anything happens to them, we can't reach them," Nair, who lives in metro St. John's, told CBC News. "That's the worst part of it."

Nair's parents live in Kerala, a state on India's southwest coast, known for its tropical foods and beaches. Her father doesn't understand, she says, why he can't take his daily walks around their neighbourhood.

These days, cooped up indoors and away from the crowded streets, he's getting frustrated at little things. "He wasn't like that before," Nair said.

Nair and her siblings, spread around the globe, keep an eye on their parents from webcams placed throughout the house. They call daily, reminding them not to set foot outside, where anyone could pass on a lethal infection.

India has snared the world's attention in recent days, as a steep wave of infections washes over the subcontinent. Reports of overflowing hospitals and a severe oxygen shortage dominate headlines. Dying people are turned away from emergency rooms.

Overnight, says Leeanne Singh, a Newfoundlander living in Mumbai who spoke to CBC News on Wednesday, the country accumulated more than 350,000 new cases.

She's been stuck inside for three weeks, watching as the death toll rises. "You can't comprehend the amount of people that are passing away right now," she said, struggling to find the words to describe the virus's impact.

WATCH | Heather Gillis talks with two women whose lives have changed because of COVID-19 in India:

With 36 million people — nearly the population of Canada — living in Mumbai alone, she said, the streets teem with people, potential vectors for a deadly illness. Like Nair's parents, she's restless and finding it challenging to cope. "It's not like you can just go out to a park to get some sunshine," she said.

Both Nair's parents and Singh have food and other essentials delivered to their doors. That's not the reality for everyone, Singh explains.

"Obviously that's not the norm," she said. "That's not the way it is for the majority of people in India."

Flight ban separating families

As variant B1617 spiked across India last week, the Canadian government banned all incoming flights from the region. It hasn't stopped the variant from hopping borders, however.

Newfoundland and Labrador confirmed B1617's arrival in the province earlier Wednesday.

Anyone who's travelled to India to take care of sick parents or get married has been turned around at airports throughout the country, told they'd hear back in mid-June about returning to Canada, according to what Nair has heard from her circle of friends.

"Now they can't come back here," Nair said. Some of them have jobs in Canada, and they don't know if they'll still hold them when they return, she adds.

The flight ban also makes travel to India out of the question for Nair. Her parents, although healthy, age before her eyes as she watches from afar.

Nair says sometimes, during a phone call, her mother wonders aloud if she'll see her kids again before she dies.

It pains Nair, but right now there's little she can do.

"It is hard for me," she said. "We don't know when it's going to open."

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