News ‘Terrible loss’: Second Australian dies of COVID in India

‘Terrible loss’: Second Australian dies of COVID in India

India's hospitals continue to treat thousands of COVID patients every day. The death toll currently stands at 274,390. Photo: AAP
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Businessman Govind Kant has become the second Australian to die from COVID-19 in India.

Trina Solar Asia Pacific said in a statement on Tuesday the company’s manager for Australia, Mr Kant, 47, had died on May 16 at a hospital in Delhi after contracting the virus at the end of April.

“We have lost a dear friend and valued colleague.

“Govind, who was based in Sydney for Trina Solar, had returned to India for personal reasons. Unfortunately, Govind contracted the virus in India and has passed away.

“Words may not suffice to express the heartfelt sorrow that the team at Trina Solar feels for the passing of our exceptional colleague and friend. Our thoughts and prayers are with Govind and his family, including his wife and two daughters,” a statement on the company’s LinkedIn page read.

India has recorded 24,965,463 cases of COVID-19 since the global pandemic began in January last year. There have been 274,390 deaths during that time.

Website reported there had been a “stream” of tributes from all corners of the Australian clean energy industry, describing Kant as a “champion” of solar, a consummate professional and a “wonderful human.”

“Govind Kant was the first mentor I ever had, after we met 15 years ago while I was finding my way in renewable energy,” wrote RACV Solar CEO Andy McCarthy on LinkedIn.

“No matter how many times I hassled him for advice, or how silly my question was, he was always happy to provide guidance and support.”

“He was truly committed to making a change in the world and always had time for people, he always demonstrated respect and was always supportive. He will be greatly missed,” wrote James Sturch, technical director at SolarEdge Technologies.

His death comes as Qantas stands by the COVID-19 testing process which saw 70 people taken off the passenger list for last week’s first post-pause repatriation flight from India to Australia.

Qantas chief medical officer Ian Hosegood said the airline had been working hard to design a system to keep staff, passengers and the Australian public safe.

“Managing a COVID testing regime in India at the moment is inherently difficult but these results have been checked again and we’re confident they are right,” he said.

In a statement, Qantas said: “All of the positive test results were re-run over the weekend under additional medical supervision, and the outcome was the same”.

“That included some weak positives that may have been interpreted as negative results by other laboratories,” the statement read.

’Significant loss’ for solar company

Mr Kant had returned to India for family reasons earlier in the month.

“Our deepest condolences go to his wife, two daughters and other family members,” the company said.

“This is a significant loss to Trina Solar and mere words cannot express the heartfelt sorrow we all feel upon Govind’s passing and we will provide necessary assistance to his family in this mourn period and we pray his soul may rest in peace.”

It followed the death in India of an Australian permanent resident earlier in the month.

On May 8, Sydney woman Sonali Ralhan’s father died of coronavirus, three days after the federal government’s travel ban made it temporarily illegal for citizens and permanent residents to return home.

Ms Ralhan said at the time her father was “abandoned” by the Australian government.

In an open letter to Prime Minister Scott Morrison posted to Facebook, Ms Ralhan, an Australian citizen, said she contacted embassy officials in India a few weeks ago with “great hopes” they would help her parents, long-term residents of Australia, return safely home.

False positive tests

In the first repatriation flight after the May 15 travel ban ended, more than 40 people who tested positive pre-flight along with about 30 of their close contacts were barred from returning on Saturday.

But concerns have been raised that some passengers were barred from the flight due to false positive tests.

Qantas said all of the positive test results were re-run over the weekend under additional medical supervision, and the outcomes were the same.

This included some weak positives that may have been interpreted as negative results by other laboratories.

The passengers who tested negative and ultimately flew on the May 14 repatriation flight were also given a rapid antigen test prior to boarding, and tested again by NT Health in their first 24 hours at Howard Springs.

Both sets of tests validated the original results, with only one additional passenger testing positive at Howard Springs, suggesting this person contracted COVID prior to leaving India but had yet to develop the infection.

“Considering all of these data points, Qantas and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade do not believe that any passengers booked on this flight were denied boarding in error,” the airline said.

However, Qantas said there were some issues with the testing in India.

The tests were conducted at the quarantine hotel rather than a COVID-19 clinic and because of this the medical provider used by Qantas – which had proper accreditation – sent the tests for processing at another laboratory, known as CRL, rather than using their own labs.

CRL had a temporary suspension of its accreditation for non-COVID tests, but was clear to do COVID testing for the Indian government.

Despite the tests passing subsequent checks, a different lab will be used for future pre-flight testing to ensure confidence in the system.

Dr Hosegood said weak positive results can mean someone is either in the very early stages of COVID or could reflect a prior infection they may not even know they had.

Qantas is now working with DFAT to prioritise passengers who were unable to board the flight to take up a future flight, once the mandatory 14 day time frame following a positive test has elapsed.

The next repatriation flight is due later in the week.

Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne said at the time it was an “extraordinary challenge”, extending her sympathies to families.

“Let me extend my sympathy, and that of the government, to the family of this person and to so many families that we know are dealing with what is an extraordinary challenge, with infection rates surging,” she told 2GB radio on May 8.

“There are very many families dealing with this challenge.”

-with agencies