The Biden Administration this week signed off on a travel ban affecting nearly all visitors from India.
The policy was implemented on advice from the CDC and “in light of extraordinarily high COVID-19 caseloads and multiple variants circulating in India,” confirmed White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki. Non-US citizens coming to the US from any other country will be required to have a negative test result.
The situation in India has worsened dramatically in recent weeks, with the daily average for new cases eclipsing 3,000. Last Friday, India reached a new world record for the most new cases in a single day: 386,453.
Indian officials have reported a Toal of 19 million infections and 208,000 deaths, though locals say the real tallies could be much higher.
“In some areas of rural Bihar, considerably less than 1% of infections were being detected,” says Murad Banaji, a mathematician and lecturer at Middlesex University in London.
“There has been tremendous data denial,” adds Bhramar Mukherjee, a biostatistician at the University of Michigan. “People didn’t want to believe, and the government didn’t want to believe, that this was actually going to explode.”
Mukherjee expects India’s caseload will peak in mid-May with as many as 1 million new cases a day.
To cope with the body count, playgrounds and parking lots have been transformed into mass cremation grounds. Officials in south Delhi have been forced to obtain wood from neighboring states to sustain the pyres.
“The situation is very grim here,” says Dr. Aniket Sirohi, a physician working in south Delhi. “We are short of everything…I want to say to the world, ‘Help us, in any way you can.’”
Sirohi’s prayers were answered last Thursday when US military planes carrying more than $100 million in medical supplies began landing in India. US officials are expected to begin shipping AstraZeneca vaccines to the nation as soon as they are approved by the FDA.
Another move that could help the struggling nation is the decision to waive vaccine patents at the World Trade Organization – a proposal that is currently being considered by federal officials. The move would improve access to vaccines in poorer countries, though vaccine manufacturers fear production would be botched.