India is world’s biggest producer of vaccines but does not have enough stockpiles to keep up with a deadly second wave.
The United States will restrict travel from India starting from May 4, the White House said on Friday, citing a devastating rise in COVID-19 cases in the country and the emergence of potentially dangerous variants of the coronavirus.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said President Joe Biden’s administration made the determination on the advice of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“The policy will be implemented in light of extraordinarily high COVID-19 caseloads and multiple variants circulating in India,” she said.
The policy means most non-US citizens who have been in India within the last 14 days will not be allowed to travel to the United States. There are some exceptions for permanent residents of the US, family members as well as some other non-US citizens.
India has reported more than 18.7 million cases since the pandemic began, a number second only to the United States. India’s health ministry on Friday reported 3,498 deaths in the last 24 hours, bringing the total to 208,330. Experts believe both figures are an undercount, but it is unclear by how much.
Countries from Europe to Asia have begun tightening quarantines and closing borders to people who have been in India amid growing alarm at the steep rise in cases and concern new variants of the virus are driving the steep rise in cases.
Australia, which has managed to virtually eliminate the virus domestically, announced late on Friday that residents and citizens who have been in India within the previous 14 days of returning home will be banned from entering the country as of May 3 and risk fines and as long as five years in jail if they disobey.
“Our hearts go out to the people of India – and our Indian-Australian community,” Health Minister Greg Hunt said in a statement. “The friends and family of those in Australia are in extreme risk. Tragically, many are contracting COVID-19 and many, sadly, are dying every day.”
The Australian government will reconsider the restrictions on May 15, he added.
The US action comes days after Biden spoke to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi about the growing health crisis in his country and pledged to immediate assistance.
The US has already moved to send therapeutics, rapid virus tests and oxygen to India, along with some materials needed for that country to boost its domestic production of COVID-19 vaccines.
Additionally, a CDC team of public health experts was expected to soon be on the ground in India to help health officials there move to slow the spread of the virus.
“We as a country have made a commitment to the people of India to support them,” Vice President Kamala Harris, who is of Indian descent, said on Friday. “And we’ve made already a commitment in terms of a dollar amount that will go to PPE and a number of other things,” she said.
“But it is tragic” she added, “And, you know, my prayers go to the people on the suffering, the blatant suffering that is happening.”
This is not at all surprising. However restricted travel from #India will only slow but not prevent dangerous variants from getting into the country. If this pandemic has taught us anything it is that infectious have no boundaries or barriers. #IndiaCovidCrisis https://t.co/gFt4KX3agr
— Krutika Kuppalli, MD FIDSA (@KrutikaKuppalli) May 1, 2021
Approaching 900,000 daily counted cases globally now, with 51% from India (over 1/3 of all cases) and Brazil. pic.twitter.com/BSDs1MOFNx
— David Fisman (@DFisman) May 1, 2021
The White House waited for the CDC recommendation before making its announcement, noting that the US already requires negative tests and quarantines for all international travellers.
Other restrictions are in place on travel from China, Iran, the European Union, the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, Brazil and South Africa, which are or have been hotspots for the coronavirus.