COVID-19: Impact of India’s second wave felt in B.C.

Some British Columbians may be stranded in India, while others are worried about loved ones as COVID-19 cases rise and hospitals are overwhelmed.

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As a second wave of COVID-19 devastates India, many British Columbians are concerned about what it could mean for both them and their loved ones abroad.

Jatinder Sandhar said he has been “constantly checking” on family and friends in India over the last few days. While many have already been vaccinated, the situation in the country’s hospitals is worrying everyone.

“The health care system is not the same as in Canada,” said Sandhar, president of the South Asian Business Association of B.C.

On Thursday, the federal government suspended flights from India and Pakistan for the next month as India recorded more than 330,000 coronavirus cases in 24 hours.

B.C.’s provincial health office, Dr. Bonnie Henry, said she supports the move. “Anything we can do that stops further introductions into the country is really, really important.”

Henry said 39 cases of the double mutation first identified in India (B.1.617) have been found in B.C., with some directly related to travel from India and others in people who had not travelled. The B.1.617 strain has not been labelled a variant of concern, but rather a variant of interest.

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Balwinder Chahal said the federal government should have given more warning before suspending flights.

“We need to take care of our own country, but at the same time, we should be thinking of the world and how we can help each other,” he said. “If the virus is not controlled at the international level, it will raise its head again.”

Chahal, the vice-president of the South Asian Business Association, was also concerned about students who were planning to study in B.C. this spring. It is unclear what will happen to tuition fees that have already been paid for classes starting in May.

Some British Columbians may also be stranded in India if they were visiting family or went there for the winter, said Satwinder Kaur Bains, director of the South Asian Studies Institute at the University of the Fraser Valley.

“India is a snowbird region for many people in B.C.,” she said.

This is the time when many people would start to return home, some to work in B.C.’s agriculture industry, which could lead to a labour shortage on local berry and vegetable farms.

Bains said Canada should have stopped international travel earlier to prevent this situation.

In a statement Friday, Rachna Singh, B.C. parliamentary secretary for anti-racism initiatives, recognized that racialized communities have been hit by a rise in racism during the pandemic.

“I know there is a lot of stress in the South Asian community for their loved ones back home,” she said. “The concern as to whether their community will be targeted next only adds to that stress during this difficult time.”

Singh spoke out against stereotypes, adding “this is about fighting the COVID-19 virus, not our fellow British Columbians.”

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