Biden to restrict travel from India to US due to rise in Covid-19 cases

<span>Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The US will restrict travel from India starting next week, 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.

The limits, which take effect from 4 May, with bar most non-US citizens arriving from India from entering the United States.

Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said Joe Biden’s administration made the determination on the advice of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The policy will be implemented in light of extraordinarily high Covid-19 caseloads and multiple variants circulating in the India,” she said.

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India’s healthcare system has been overwhelmed by the latest case surge, the worst the country has faced so far, with the virus is showing no sign of abating. With 386,452 new cases, India now has reported more than 18.7m since the pandemic began, second only to the United States. The health ministry on Friday also reported 3,498 deaths in the last 24 hours, bringing the total to 208,330. Experts believe both figures are an undercount.

The US action comes days after Biden spoke with the Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, about the growing health crisis and pledged to immediately send 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.

The White House waited on the CDC recommendation before moving to restrict travel, noting that the US already requires negative tests and quarantines for all international travelers.

In January, Biden issued a similar ban on most non-US citizens entering the country who have recently been in South Africa. He also reimposed an entry ban on nearly all non-US travelers who have been in Brazil, the United Kingdom, Ireland and 26 countries in Europe that allow travel across open borders. China and Iran are also both covered by the policy.

The policy means most non-US citizens who have been in one of the stated countries within the last 14 days are not eligible to travel to the United States. Permanent US residents and family members and some other non-US citizens, such as students, are exempted.

There was no immediate comment on the new limits from the state department, which on Thursday reissued a warning to Americans against traveling to India and said those already in the country should consider leaving by commercial means. That warning was accompanied by a notice that the department was telling the families of all US government employees at its embassy in New Delhi and four consulates in India that they could leave the country at government expense.

US international air travel remains down 60% from pre-Covid-19 levels, while US domestic air travel is down 40%, according to industry trade group Airlines for America.