U.S. aid shipments arrive in India as country battles deadly second wave

The U.S. is sending emergency aid shipments to India as the nation battles against a deadly second wave of COVID-19. CBS senior foreign correspondent Elizabeth Palmer reports on the status of the outbreak there and in Brazil, where deaths are skyrocketing. Afterward, CBS News correspondent Christina Ruffini joins CBSN's Lana Zak with more on new travel restrictions barring most travel into the U.S. from India, which will go into effect on Tuesday.

Video Transcript

LANA ZAK: The US is shipping emergency supplies to India as one of several nations being crushed by new cases of COVID-19. CBS News Senior Foreign Correspondent Elizabeth Palmer has more on the pandemic situation overseas.

ELIZABETH PALMER: Mass vaccination is at last bringing COVID under control in Europe. But there are hot spots across the world, first and foremost right now in India.

Yesterday, it set a grim record. More than 400,000 new cases. To say hospitals are overwhelmed is an understatement. Medical staff are working flat out against huge odds. And everywhere there's a shortage of oxygen.

People wait for hours in the street to refill tanks for home care. A Sikh temple in East Delhi even set up curbside oxygen distribution for the very sickest, like Abu Sa'adat, whose brother has been trying to get him into the hospital for a week.

- No more beds in the hospital.

ELIZABETH PALMER: More than 3,500 Indians died yesterday. Makeshift crematoriums have even sprung up in parking lots, with the fires going day and night. International aid, including oxygen from the US, is arriving, but not enough to end this crisis anytime soon.

The other hot spot on the planet is Brazil, with a per capita death rate right now even higher than India's and the virus is still spreading fast, thanks to people obeying rules on mask wearing and social distancing sporadically or not at all.

Speaking of no social distancing, how about this? A government sponsored rave. 3,000 young people tested to make sure they didn't have COVID were invited to a party in Liverpool. They'll now be tested every day to find out if mass events like this can take place safely over the summer.

And the outlook for the UK is good. Daily deaths are down from more than 1,000 back in January to just 15 on average last week. Lana.

Good in some ways and then shocking in so many others. Elizabeth, thank you.

For more on how the Biden administration is responding to the surge of cases in India, let's bring in CBS News Correspondent Christina Ruffini. Christina, the US announced Friday that it would bar entry to most foreigners from India due to the surge of cases there. I want to play for our viewers Vice President Kamala Harris addressing this travel restriction on Friday.

KAMALA HARRIS: We have announced that there's going to be a travel restriction starting on Tuesday on the advice of the Centers for Disease Control, our COVID-19 experts, medical experts, our National Security Advisors.

It is important to note, as I said earlier, that we have a responsibility as the United States, in particular as it relates to the people that we have partnered with over the years, to step up when people are in a time of need. And tonight, in fact, we're going to be sending a plane with supplies that will include oxygen and with an expectation that that will provide some level of relief.

LANA ZAK: I want to talk about those aid shipments in just a moment. But first, Christina, what more can you tell us about the decision to bar travel from India and who this will impact?

CHRISTINA RUFFINI: Well, it wasn't taken lightly. India is a strategic ally in the Asia-Pacific it's a nation that the Bush administration has really been making ovation towards. They're trying to get these coalition partners of allies together to help push back against countries like China in the region. So it was something that they knew would be disruptive. It would be disruptive to travel. It would be disruptive to business.

And there's always the diplomatic angle, just people don't like it because there's a stigma attached with it. However, as you heard the vice president say, the CDC and the advisors said it had to be done, because the caseload in India is so disturbing, and now that there's finally seeming like there's an inch of control about COVID in the United States, they don't want to risk that by having travelers from India, especially anyone who might have these secondary and third strains, coming in and sparking new outbreaks, just as the domestic situation is starting to get under control.

LANA ZAK: Well, the United States began shipping critically needed supplies to India last week. But it comes after the US faced accusations of hoarding vaccines. What more can you tell us about the kind of aid US officials are sending, Christina?

CHRISTINA RUFFINI: So the shipment to India is $100 million worth of aid. It includes a lot of things. But the main things that people are looking for right now in India is it contains oxygen, it has oxygen tanks and oxygen generators, which are so desperately needed. I've heard stories this week from friends of friends who knew kids from college, who are on college websites because they'd gone to college in the states, saying if anybody knows anybody who can get an oxygen tank to me in India, please let me know because the situation is so dire.

So those are the things that are really needed. However, the Indian government and sources in the Indian government have said that is what they need right now. But what they need long term is more vaccinations. Now the US also announced that it will have Americans working with Indian production companies to help them ramp up their own ability to produce these vaccines. The goal is to have India itself be able to produce a billion doses by 2022.

LANA ZAK: And an interesting thing that I want to get your take on. There are other countries, like Russia and China, who are actually ahead of the US when it comes to distributing vaccines to other countries. What more can you tell us about this?

CHRISTINA RUFFINI: Right, so Russia and China have really used their vaccines as a tool of diplomatic soft power. In some cases, even before their own populations were getting these vaccines, they were going to countries, some of whom have been traditional Western allies, US allies, in Europe, in South America, and said, look, the US, the Europeans don't have vaccines to give you. We'll give you Sinovac or we'll give you the Sputnik vaccine. And in a lot of cases, they were accepted.

Whereas, the US has taken the airplane safety video approach, which is adjust your own oxygen mask, make sure you are safe before helping the person next to you. And the Biden administration has said over and over again its priority is making sure Americans get those vaccines.

But now that we're seeing the population get more vaccinated, now that it seems like if you want a vaccine you can pretty easily get one in most places, we'll have to see if the administration is more willing to let other countries not only have those vaccines, but buy them. Because at the moment, many of those vaccines, it's not even putting up if you wanted to buy them from the US, they're not available. Because the US has wanted to keep those doses for Americans first.

And diplomatically, it's rankled a lot of allies, especially allies like India, allies like Brazil, who've been very hard hit by this, who've said we need vaccines, you have vaccines. But so far, if they want them, they're getting them from Russia or China for the most part.

LANA ZAK: Christina, I want to circle back up to something that you were saying in the beginning when we were talking about the travel ban and actually follow up on that point a bit. Because in the early weeks of the pandemic, former President Donald Trump faced criticism from Democrats after he announced a travel ban against China, which was then followed by restrictions against travel from Europe.

People then rushed to enter the US before those travel bans went into effect. And health experts say that that likely brought more cases with them. Can you tell us how the Biden administration is trying to avoid a repeat of that? And is the Biden administration facing similar criticisms for their travel ban now?

CHRISTINA RUFFINI: It is. Travel bans are one of those things that no matter when you do it, no matter how you do it, it's going to tick off somebody. People were saying last-- people were saying when the travel ban went into place this week, it should have been last week. They should have done it sooner. Other people were saying people need more time to get home, people need more time to get on flights.

There is always this rush for the doors when these travel bans are announced. Because as we saw at the beginning of COVID, when Americans were stranded all over the world, these decisions come down very, very quickly, and the flights go away, and people get stuck and stranded in place. The State Department had to basically airlift Americans from countries all over the world at the start of COVID because the country said, that's it, we're doing travel bans, no one in or out. And Americans had no way to get in or out except for flights organized by the US government.

We haven't heard that there's going to be any necessarily-- there's going to be any necessity for those kinds of flights yet in India. Commercial travel is still available if you can get on it. And of course, US citizens are allowed back in the country. But non-citizens, and if you don't have a reason to be here, there is a travel ban coming in and out of India. And again, that's an effort to keep what is a heartbreaking level of pandemic hopefully from American shores once again.

LANA ZAK: Christina, people are thinking about the US situation and the appearance that we are getting a handle on the pandemic domestically. They may think the situation playing out in India doesn't really pose such a serious risk here in the United States, particularly as this travel ban is put into place. But that's not the case. Can you explain why?

CHRISTINA RUFFINI: It's not the case. Because as health experts have said over and over again, a pandemic anywhere is a threat to people everywhere. As we saw in China when people were saying, oh, that will never come here, that wasn't the case. It's a globalized society. People move frequently through countries, through borders.

And you can never guarantee that any kind of illness, any kind of virus is going to stay in one place. So there is this new sense of security because we have vaccinations. But what's unclear is if this pandemic is able to rage in India, if we see more and more of these variants that are harder to treat, they're easier to catch, that could end up back on the US shores.

And it's untested so far how well these new vaccines are going to do against all the variants. Or it could create a new variant if the pandemic is allowed to rage. And that's just not something any of us want to do. So it's a global issue and it's a global responsibility for everyone to help any of these hot spots lighten the load. Because it's going to impact everyone sooner or later. And we certainly saw that in the last year with COVID-19.

LANA ZAK: All right, Christina. Thanks for laying all that out for us.

CHRISTINA RUFFINI: Thank you so much.