Love your neighbour near and far

Anna Grummitt on the decision to ban Australians in India from returning home, and the importance of compassion during this pandemic.

This week I’ve been following the news out of India with shock and despair. 400,000+ daily COVID cases. Hospitals overrun. Oxygen tanks being desperately sought on Twitter. Mass cremations in local parks.

It’s truly horrific. And it’s a stark reminder that in Australia, we’ve mostly been shielded from the worst of the pandemic. Much of this is due to aggressive government policies to contain COVID – which, broadly, I’m grateful for.

However, the move to ban Australians in India from returning home, with threats of jail and hefty fines, seems a leap too far. Even Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly conceded it sets a dangerous precedent – and may lead to Australians dying overseas.

The ban has received significant backlash, but I’ve also seen many comments supporting it. They argue that Australians shouldn’t be overseas anyway (never mind if they travelled to care for a dying parent), that they’ve had time to come home (never mind if they’ve been trying to return for months), and that we need to keep COVID out at all costs (never mind that our quarantine system is designed to achieve just that).

This attitude of “unfeeling judgment” is, according to ABC journalist Virginia Trioli, “one of the most troubling characteristics of Australian life during the pandemic.” It’s an attitude characterised by a lack of empathy and compassion for others; a sense that their predicament is “not our responsibility”.

But it isn’t the only attitude we’ve seen. The pandemic has led to beautiful acts of care – from ‘adopting’ healthcare workers, to collecting groceries for vulnerable neighbours or providing support for struggling migrants.

So while COVID continues to rage beyond our borders, this extended crisis still presents an opportunity for compassion: of loving our neighbours both near and far.