President Joe Biden banned most travel to the U.S. from India beginning Tuesday as the country struggles to combat the worst surge of coronavirus cases in the world.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended the ban, which won’t apply to U.S. citizens or permanent residents.
“The policy will be implemented in light of extraordinarily high Covid-19 caseloads and multiple variants circulating in the India,” Psaki said in a statement.
India recorded 387,000 new infections on Thursday, a record high, and nearly 3,500 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Gayle Smith, the State Department’s coordinator for global Covid response and health security, told reporters in a conference call Friday that the surge in India is “very, very serious.”
“The crisis has not peaked yet,” she said.
United Airlines Holdings Inc., the only U.S. carrier with nonstop service to India, said in a statement that it would “comply with all government regulations and travel orders.”
“United is proud of the essential air service we provide to connect our two countries and we’ll continue to support India during this time of need,” it said.
The U.S. is sending aid to India to fight its surge, and the travel restriction underscores the risk that new mutations of the virus pose even to countries with high vaccination levels. The travel restrictions also don’t apply to aid workers.
The U.S. flew oxygen and other supplies to India on Friday, according to the Biden administration. The gas, used to treat patients with severe Covid-19, is in scarce supply in the country and a black market has emerged, according to media reports.
Biden has also said he’ll send vaccines to India, though hasn’t yet done so. The shots, produced by AstraZeneca Plc but not yet authorized for use in the U.S., need first to be reviewed by U.S. regulators.
Friday’s move is the latest in a series of Covid-related travel restrictions imposed by the Biden administration and the Trump administration before it.
Variants of the virus emerge typically in places where it’s spreading rapidly, and can prove more contagious, more harmful and more deadly as a result.
Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said earlier Friday that the U.S. continues to work to track the spread of variants, and is supporting similar work in other countries, including India.
“The more virus and viral replication, the virus has more chances to mutate, and this means additional opportunities for variants to evolve,” she said.
— With assistance by Justin Sink
(Updates with Smith remarks in fourth paragraph.)