US to Limit Travel to India in Light of Covid-19 Variants, Deaths

Details on the travel restrictions are scant, but a White House spokesperson said they will come into effect on Tuesday.

A health worker attends to a Covid-19 patient at a government hospital in Ahmedabad, India on April 22. (AP Photo/Ajit Solanki)

WASHINGTON (CN) — President Joe Biden is expected to restrict travel to India on Tuesday in light of the South Asian country’s spike in Covid-19 caseloads and numerous variants of the disease.

“On the advice of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the administration will restrict travel from India starting immediately,” said White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki in a statement Friday.

India’s current seven-day average for new Covid-19 infections reached 350,000 on Thursday; more than 3,000 people in the country are dying from the virus every day. On Friday, more than 386,452 new cases were reported.

Clinics and hospitals are running out of oxygen for patients, and medical resources and other therapeutics are thinly distributed in parts of the country. Families are being told to bury their dead wherever they can manage as the U.S. government funnels thousands of cylinders of oxygen to Indian hospitals.

According to the Covid-19 tracker maintained by Johns Hopkins University of Medicine, more than 3,200 Indians have died daily for the past three days. As daily deaths continue to grow, Indian crematoriums have run low on tinder.

The U.S. has chiefly sent aid to India in the form of oxygen, delivering 1,700 concentrators — devices that can produce oxygen from ambient air — to the country. The federal government will also deliver 1,100 oxygen cylinders, which can be repeatedly refilled at local oxygen supply centers, and 15 million N95 masks for patients and health care professionals.

CDC personnel will assist Indian health experts in sequencing variants’ genomes, rolling out vaccines and work in laboratories and communicating risks.

Vice President Kamala Harris, who traveled to Ohio Friday to promote the president’s infrastructure plan, said after the event that the U.S. will honor its commitment to support and protect India.

The loss of life and blatant suffering of their people is tragic, Harris said, and noted she had not yet spoken to her own family in the country since the travel restriction’s announcement.

While many speculate India’s rise in cases is due to a new, homegrown variant, Howard Forman — a practicing diagnostic radiologist who teaches at Yale University — told Courthouse News in an email that variants are not necessarily the cause of India’s spike.

“I think we have some things within our control: non-pharmaceutical interventions (distancing, masking), treatments, vaccines,” Forman wrote. “Whether their variant is making it worse or not will not solve their challenge. And we have no reason to believe that our vaccines would be less effective.”

About 9% of India’s 1.4 billion residents have received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine. The country’s rollout of mass vaccinations has stalled around 80 million a month after a fire at the Serum Institute in Pune — a factory that makes the AstraZeneca vaccine in India. The country’s lack of access to raw materials for the serum also inhibits production.

Other drawbacks have come from a global lack of access to intellectual property surrounding the creation of Covid-19 vaccines. Bill Gates, who has aided the production of vaccine in the United States, recently declined to consider expanding access to those techniques and information in India and other countries.

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