May 9, 2021

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Biden to block travel from India from next week amid Covid spike


US President Biden plans to block incoming travel from India as the country faces a disastrous surge in Covid-19 cases, the White House announced on Friday.

“On the advice of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Administration will restrict travel from India starting immediately,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement. “The policy will be implemented in light of extraordinarily high COVID-19 caseloads and multiple variants circulating in India.”

The ban will take effect on Tuesday, 4 May.

It will block most non-American citizens who have been to India within the last 14 days from entering the United States, the White House said. Permanent US residents, family members, humanitarian workers, and other specific groups will still be permitted.

India is currently suffering an enormous spike in Covid-19 infections. For the last nine days, the country has had at least 300,000 new cases per day. Just in the last 24 hours, 3,498 people have died, bringing the total death toll to 208,330.

The crisis has put unprecedented pressure on resources such as critical medicines, hospital beds, oxygen equipment, and blood plasma. The need is so dire that India has announced it will accept foreign aid – something it had not done in 16 years.

On Wednesday, the US embassy in India urged Americans to leave the country.

“The Department of State advises that US citizens not travel to the country or to leave as soon as it is safe to do so,” the embassy warned on its website.

“New cases and deaths from COVID-19 have risen sharply throughout India to record levels,” the embassy added. “Hospitals are reporting shortages of supplies, oxygen, and beds for both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 related patients. US citizens are reporting being denied admittance to hospitals in some cities due to a lack of space.”

Earlier this week, the Biden administration pledged to send badly needed supplies to help India combat the outbreak, including therapeutics, rapid diagnostic test kits, ventilators, and personal protective equipment.

“Just as India sent assistance to the United States as our hospitals were strained early in the pandemic, the United States is determined to help India in its time of need,” US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Sunday.

One of the reasons the White House cited for the new travel restrictions is that Covid variants, which are sometimes more deadly or contagious, appear to be a major driver of India’s surge. Experts say two variants in particular are responsible for the spike: B.1.1.7, which has been circulating in the UK and the US; and B.1.617, which originated in India.

The Indian B.1.617 strain has already made it to several European countries. On Thursday, French authorities reported three cases of it in southern France. The Biden administration appears to be trying to stop it from reaching the United States.