1. Skip to navigation
  2. Skip to content
  3. Skip to sidebar

by Nandika Ravi

As COVID-19 cases continue to surge in India, members of the South Asian community in Canada are fighting two battles at the same time. While making sure they keep themselves safe amid a third wave in Canada, they’re also hoping and praying each day that the deadly second wave doesn’t touch their family back home. And if it does, what do they do next?

A health worker takes a nasal swab sample to test for COVID-19 in Jammu, India, Saturday, April 24, 2021.  (AP Photo/Channi Anand)

Hemanth Phani*, who works for a supply chain company in Toronto, said that he feels stranded on the wrong side of the world after hearing that his 53-year-old mother, who lives in India, has tested positive for COVID-19.

“I can’t go even if I wanted to. There’s a lot on the line here,” Phani told OMNI News.

“I’m waiting for my permanent residency application to be processed and I don’t think I’m allowed to leave the country before the decision is made.”

Phani moved to Canada in December 2017 as a student , leaving his full-time job as a team lead in Amazon. While pursuing his education, he also worked in retails stores and worked nights at factories so that his family could pay off the education loans back in India. After graduating from Humber college with a diploma in Supply Chain Management a year later, he couldn’t land a full-time job immediately. While he waited for his work permit to come through, Phani took up double shifts at a restaurant in downtown Toronto.

However, approximately six months later he was offered a contract position as an inventory planner and later was made a full time employee in the same organization. If he decides to leave the country , he’d be risking his permanent residency application and his job that is now helping him pay his mother’s medical bills.

Hemanth Phani| Photo Provided

For South Asians like Phani, it’s not as easy as just deciding to stay home and ride out the pandemic. For many, having moved to Canada to provide in part for their families at home, the choice between staying to work or going home to help is an impossible one.

“I’m not sure what to do in this situation; I’ve travelled thousands of miles away to be able to financially support my family in India, but the thought of having to let everything go is just frightening,” Phani said.

He feels extremely anxious, and is hoping that his mother gets necessary medical help when she needs it.

“COVID-19 becomes real when it hits close to home,” he said.

“My sister is taking care of my mother right now, thankfully I have someone to rely on. But what about people who’re stuck in this part of the world, with no one to tend to their family?”

For Phani, the consideration of returning home isn’t just one of comfort; his mother’s care has been trusted to a health system on the brink of disaster. India’s hospital system has collapsed, and there’s a shortage of hospital beds, vital medication and oxygen cylinders. Many Indians have already succumbed to the disease as global aid is still on the way. Indian authorities are scrambling to get medical oxygen to hospitals where COVID-19 patients are suffocating from low supplies.

Ambulances carrying COVID-19 patients wait for their turn to be attended out side a government COVID-19 hospital as a worker erects a sun shade in Ahmedabad, India, Tuesday, April 27, 2021. Coronavirus cases in India are surging faster than anywhere else in the world. (AP Photo/Ajit Solanki)

“They’ve (the hospitals) collapsed, one hundred per cent they’ve collapsed and knowing that your entire family is in the midst of this, that is the part that is so incredibly scary,” Sabina Vohra-Miller, co-founder of the South Asian Health Network, told The Big Story Podcast.

The office of the General Consul of India in Canada said that they haven’t received any information from the Indian government on what the next steps could be for people who are impacted by these travel bans. As the situation is set to get worse before it gets better in India, South Asian-Canadians will continue to search for workarounds to travel to their country to be with their families, as the choruses of “just stay home” continue to echo.


  • Hemanth Phani is Nandika Ravi’s partner. This story has been reviewed by OMNI News’ editorial staff.