Members of Melbourne’s Indian community have gathered at Federation Square to hold a vigil as harrowing images of massed funeral pyres shock the world and provide a new measure of COVID-19’s horror.

Indian priests from Hindu, Christian, Muslim and Sikh faiths and around 100 followers joined in interfaith prayers for the COVID-stricken country on Wednesday evening, as the number of cases continued to skyrocket and the country’s health services are overwhelmed in the face of a severe coronavirus outbreak.

Organiser Karthik Arasu.Credit:David Estcourt

Jai Bharagwaj, a communications strategist from Point Cook, became emotional as he described his concern for his parents in Delhi, who have both caught COVID-19.

“This is really troubling,” he said, “I want to see them whenever this madness has finished.”

His sister has flown back from the United States to help the vulnerable pair.

Direct flights into Australia from India have been halted for at least three weeks, as India neared a total of 200,000 COVID-19 deaths on Wednesday.

“All I can do right now is talk to them and help them, emotionally. Help their mental health so that they don’t deteriorate in their hopes, I want to keep that hope burning in them,” Mr Bharagwaj said.

He said he felt guilty he couldn’t provide more help to his parents and had been reflecting on when his father used to look after him when he was a child.

“I used to get sick, really sick, and my father. He used to sit on my bedside the whole night … but what can I do? Give him a call?”

Governments around Australia have taken a hardline approach to Australians returning from India.

Jai Bharagwaj is worried about his parents in Delhi.Credit:David Estcourt

There are about 9000 Australians trying to return from India, with 650 considered vulnerable. India’s health system is under extreme pressure and oxygen supplies are being depleted as official case numbers rise by more than 350,000 per day, though actual figures are estimated to be much higher.

Australia has not previously halted all direct flights from individual countries.

In the US, daily cases peaked at 300,000 and deaths peaked at more than 3360 in early January according to data collated by The New York Times. In the UK, daily cases peaked at over 76,000 and deaths peaked at just over 1300 in late January.

Vigil organiser Karthik Arasu said people in the community were losing family and friends daily.

“It’s very difficult. It’s not just in my family, it’s an entire city centre, state, an entire country,” he said.

“Every single day we are hearing somebody is lost. People are really emotional.

“Today’s vigil is all about prayers, sending positivity to India, and telling them people back home that we are with you.”

Abhijit Bhide, who led the Buddhist prayer, said people were unprepared for how quickly the virus spread.

“The infection has spread like a wildfire and people did not realise that,” he said.

“It’s very hard. It is so disturbing that every second time you talk to someone, their family or their friends are no more.”

Mr Bhide said he was pleading with people back home to follow the health directions issued by the government.

“You can save people, you can save life, you can save infection.”

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