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India's COVID crisis takes emotional toll on diaspora

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As CBS News' Tina Kraus reports, COVID-19 is ravaging India as the country continues to break records for single-day cases. While several nations, including the U.S., impose travel bans on India, the restrictions not stopping the U.S. from sending critical supplies. India's diaspora is also offering assistance, as they watch the situation unfold from afar. Mallika Sen, an editor with The Associated Press, joins CBSN's Elaine Quijano with her analysis.

Video Transcript

ELAINE QUIJANO: India has surpassed 20 million coronavirus infections. The country continues to break records for single-day cases. The White House says it's already sent more than $100 million worth of supplies to India.

The US is among several countries around the world who are enforcing travel restrictions from India. In Australia, those who violate the rules could face tens of thousands of in fines or even jail time. Tina Kraus has the latest from London.

TINA KRAUS: The suffering just doesn't stop, as COVID infections and deaths escalate across India. The country is reporting more than 300,000 new coronavirus cases for a 13th consecutive day.

- If everything goes very well, things will be horrible for the next several weeks.

TINA KRAUS: Doctors at this hospital in New Delhi say their health care system is close to collapsing with medical supplies dwindling and ICU beds only available when someone dies.

- We are losing patients here. And it is not a hidden factor. It is there. Everybody knows it.

TINA KRAUS: With COVID cases spiraling out of control, the Biden administration is banning travel from India to keep potentially deadly variants out of the US. America is sending more than $100 million worth of medical supplies to the US ally.

With India's government struggling to tackle the COVID crisis, everyday people are stepping in to help each other. In the slums of Mumbai, Shanawaz Shaikh sold his prized SUV to start a new drive-- to give free oxygen to thousands who desperately need it. He calls the project a Ray of Hope in a country that could use some. Tina Kraus, CBS News.

ELAINE QUIJANO: Millions of people make up India's diaspora globally. Many friends and relatives of those overseas say they feel guilt and frustration over the crisis. Mallika Sen writes about this in a recent piece for the Associated Press titled, As virus engulfs India, diaspora watches with despair.

And Mallika joins me now. She is an editor at The Associated Press. Mallika, thank you so much for being with us. These stories that we have seen from India are heart-wrenching. What has it been like for people with roots in India, as they've been watching this crisis from afar?

MALLIKA SEN: There's a general sense of helplessness. They can't-- family is really important to Indians. And family includes friends. They include your second cousin. There's no real distinction between grades of kin and relatives.

And so the natural inclination when your family members are sick or in crisis is to hop on a plane and travel over there if you have the means. And you can't do that right now. So all you can do is sort of try to coordinate help from afar, checking in on relatives. But there's just a general sense of what can we do? We're completely helpless in this regard.

ELAINE QUIJANO: Well, in your piece, you describe our technology and social media helps loved ones connect overseas. But it also leads to a spread in misinformation on COVID. How are people walking that line and trying not to create family tension during this crisis?

MALLIKA SEN: It's really tricky. That was the number one pet peeve of everyone I spoke to. I started asking them, what's the most ridiculous thing you've been forwarded on WhatsApp? And it ranged from everything from drinking lemon water cures the coronavirus to the nasal swabs for coronavirus tests will cause brain liquid to reach from your nose, like horrible visceral stuff.

And so there's a couple different things. One is just, you know, fact checking. I spoke to several people who said that they've told their grandparents to just forward them every single forward they get. And they'll tell you if it's real or not.

But for other people have just straight up given up because there's nothing that they've said that it's gotten through to their family members in terms of taking the virus seriously. It's one of those things where it's not a universal story. It's not that everyone believes the misinformation or no one is taking it seriously over there.

It's just-- it's become so commonplace. WhatsApp has long been a tool of sort of misinformation in India on various topics that it's-- it's kind of hard to differentiate like what makes this different or why should we now not believe what comes through there?

ELAINE QUIJANO: Right, yeah. I imagine there's such a volume too of misinformation along with, you know, what might be some legitimate information that it can be hard for some people to distinguish, I imagine, of between what's actually factually true and what isn't.

In addition, some Indians and Indian Americans blame India's government for allowing the crisis to get to this point. What is their reasoning? What did they tell you?

MALLIKA SEN: The primary reason seems to be that why now at this point in the coronavirus pandemic where more than a year in is India experienced such a crisis? And for a lot of people I spoke to, that just comes down to poor government decisions and mismanagement.

It's also an interesting situation because I didn't ask the political inclinations of the people I was interviewing. But a lot of the Indian diaspora in the US has historically tended to be fairly pro-Modi. And so this is one of those cases where it's now drudging up a lot of conflicted feelings because it's like they have been largely supportive. But now they're angry and they're confused as to why this is happening.

And a lot of them have blamed politicking before the state elections. And just also, though, it all stems back to communalism, again, where like, there was no restrictions on the Kumbh Mela-- [? Kumbh de ?] Mela in India, which is a large Hindu festival for a long time. And that has been linked as a generator of the spread.

ELAINE QUIJANO: Yeah, I remember seeing those images and wondering what the effects of that might be. Well, your piece also notes that 4.2 million people make up the Indian diaspora here in the US. How is the community coming together to help India?

MALLIKA SEN: Yeah, so one point that has to be made really clear about the diaspora and also India itself is that it's not monolithic. It's filled with different religions, different mother tongues, different caste and class.

So a lot of-- there are some concerted efforts where a lot of people are just giving money. Financial help is probably the easiest way to assist. So a lot of people are trying to find reputable organizations where the donations are actually going actively to supplies, like oxygen and stuff like that.

But what's interesting is you see a lot of individual projects, whether it's just helping family or even a larger network. I know people who are just always constantly on the phone all day trying to coordinate from thousands and thousands of miles away, literally the opposite time zone. They're trying to find hospital beds or find people to take care of their loved ones. You see people with tech skills coding websites that connect people to the resources from afar.

I spoke to one lady who was helping fact check various pieces of social media to connect people to resources and also just let people know what's true and what's not out there. So it's kind of interesting to see like there's the typical urge to open your wallet and donate. But there's also like, individual ways you can make a difference.

ELAINE QUIJANO: Right, and we see people trying to do that any way they can even from so far away. Mallika Sen, thank you so much-- really appreciate your time.

MALLIKA SEN: Thanks for having me.