‘I have nobody else’: Brother of Australian citizen who died of COVID-19 in India begs for help with elderly father

For Sanjay Khanna, the grief is immense. 

Within the space of 24 hours he lost his brother to COVID-19 and then his mother. 

“I have to organise two funerals in the lockdown. It is a terrible state for me to feel so helpless.”

His 51-year-old brother Sunil Khanna, an Australian citizen from Sydney’s west, died on 29 April, four days after receiving positive test results for COVID-19. He is the third Australian to die from the virus in India – and he had been in the midst of planning his return to Australia in early June. 

The at-capacity hospitals in New Delhi meant that finding a hospital bed and an ambulance to assist Sunil became nearly impossible. 

From his home in Sydney, Sanjay made 28 phone calls to ambulances to get his brother to hospital. When one finally arrived after one and a half hours it was too late, he told SBS News through tears.

“As it arrived at the hospital, he straight away went on the emergency – and straight away suffered low saturation levels of oxygen and basically he suffered a cardiac arrest with respiratory failure.”

Within 24 hours, his mother – at the age of 83 – also succumbed to the virus. 

“My mother also suffered a respiratory failure and she died at home.”

Sunil Khanna is the third Australian to die from coronavirus in India.

SBS News


His father also contracted COVID-19 but received results on Tuesday saying he had recovered from the virus. 

But at the age of 84, he still has medical needs and requires supervision. 

Sanjay said while he was making funeral arrangements for his brother and mother from Australia, including 13 days of rituals and rites, he was also trying to do his best to assist his father in India.

“I have been sleeping only a couple of hours a day … making sure [my father] gets his medication on time, monitoring his vitals every four hours, sending him to the various doctors I know there.

“It is a real challenge to manage remotely my dad. He is a bit weary. But the good thing is I am trying to keep his spirits positive, and trying to make him stay focused, positive and just not to be alone.”

Sanjay said compounding his grief is his distress knowing there is no immediate family in India who can help his father. 

Sanjay Khanna's mother also died from COVID-19 in New Delhi on 30 April.

Sanjay Khanna’s mother also died from COVID-19 in New Delhi on 30 April.

SBS News

Sydney migration agent Sanjay Deshwal is assisting Sanjay make applications to the government to allow his father, who is not an Australian citizen, to come to Australia on humanitarian grounds. 

“That is what my request to the Australian government is, that they allow me to bring my father. He is my last remaining family member alive. And I have nobody else.”

During the pandemic, the federal government has made exemptions for immediate family of Australian citizens to come to Australia, but that category doesn’t include parents – only spouses and dependent children. 

Mr Deshwal said compassion needs to be shown to Sanjay and the plight of Australians in India. 

“We understand that the govt has done very well in keeping Australians safe – and we want the standards to be maintained like that.

“There should be some compassion and leniency. His father is 84 years old and alone.

“He wants to come here, and they are willing to pay for the airfare. They are willing to pay for the quarantine.

“So the government should look into that angle.”

News of Sunil’s death follows those of a 47-year-old Australian businessman and a 59-year-old permanent resident, which were revealed earlier this month.

India recorded 4,529 COVID-19 deaths on Wednesday, the highest single-day spike of fatalities anywhere in the world since the beginning of the pandemic.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said there are 11,000 Australians stranded in India seeking to come home, including 900 listed as vulnerable. The government has arranged for two more repatriation flights this month, one for 23 May, and another on 31 May.

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