The US government is finally set to enforce travel restrictions from India where medics say 30,000 people are dying every single day, bodies are piling up in the streets and three different types of its homegrown variant are ravaging the country.
The ban, which only applies to non-US citizens, won’t come into effect until next Tuesday.
The announcement comes two days after the State Department issued a Level 4 travel advisory, which is the highest alert of its kind, urging all Americans to leave India if they can because of the current COVID-19 outbreak there.
The alert also advises Americans not to travel to India as the country experiences a catastrophic second wave that is, in part, fueled by a deadly Indian variant known as B.1.617. India saw its deadliest day yet, with more than 3,600 Covid fatalities, on Wednesday. More than 380,000 new infections were reported yesterday.
Until now, there was no word on whether the US government would issue any travel restrictions despite there already being bans in place on the UK, South Africa, Brazil and a number of European countries.
Each day, 14 direct flights are arriving in the US from India, packed with people fleeing a catastrophic second wave.
Passengers flying back into the US from India on Thursday and Friday told DailyMail.com that the majority of their flights were full.
Health chiefs have now split the Indian variant, known as B.1.617, into three distinct variants because it has mutated into similar but genetically different viruses. Early research has suggested the vaccines are effective against B.1.617.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not consider B.1.617 a variant of ‘concern,’ like the UK, South African or Brazilian variants, or even slightly less worrisome ‘variant of interest.’ The agency does not publish tracking of B.1.617 variant, likely because it has a nominal presence in the U.S.
The State Department issued a Level 4 travel advisory on Wednesday, which is the highest alert of its kind, urging all Americans to leave India if they can because of the current COVID-19 outbreak there. Pictured are passengers arriving in Chicago’s O’Hare Airport on Thursday
The State Department put out its Level 4 travel advisory on Wednesday, urging all Americans in India to leave as soon as possible. Passengers arriving on flights from India on Thursday and Friday told DailyMail.com that the majority of their flights were full
A worker is seen turning over the funeral pyres at a crematorium in Delhi last night. The country of 1.4 billion is in the eye of the world’s Covid storm, with funeral pyres burning around the clock in Delhi and Mumbai and hospitals under armed guard to protect oxygen supplies
The country is in deep crisis, with hospitals and morgues overwhelmed, medicines and oxygen in short supply and strict curbs on movement in its biggest cities
COUNTRIES ON THE US RESTRICTED LIST
The Indian COVID-19 variant has already been detected in the US with reports of cases in California and Tennessee.
According to Outbreak.info, which compiles information submitted to the international GISAID database of coronavirus genome sequences suggest that the B.1.617 variant represents less than 0.5 percent of US cases.
The site reports three cases identified in Kansas, four in Washington, two in Pennsylvania, seven in New York, four in California and one in Massachusetts.
Back in January, President Joe Biden added South Africa to a list of countries the US is restricting travel from after a COVID-19 variant started spreading rapidly there and was detected in various states.
The US, to date, has not banned flights from countries amid the COVID-19 pandemic but has restricted travel for non-citizens from somewhere the virus, or its variants, were spreading.
The ban prohibits foreigners who have been in a restricted country in the 14 days prior from coming to the US. The restrictions do not apply to American citizens returning to the US.
Other countries on the restricted list include the UK, Brazil, Ireland, China and 26 European countries that are part of the border-free Schengen zone.
They include: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.
A number of countries, including the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Dubai, have all canceled flights from India amid the current outbreak there.
It is not clear if the US plans to cancel flights from India.
There are currently 14 direct flights between India and the US per day.
The CDC issued updated guidance last week that put India on a list of about 100 countries that it recommends Americans should avoid traveling to.
The State Department put out its Level 4 travel advisory on Wednesday, urging all Americans in India to leave as soon as possible.
Those on direct flights from India were spotted arriving in Washington DC, New York and Chicago on Thursday and Friday.
‘Flights were completely full because we came from India. Many flights were canceled,’ one traveler, who lives in the US, said.
Second only to the US in total infections, India has reported more than 300,000 new cases daily for nine days in a row, hitting another global record of 386,452 on Friday
Total deaths in India have surpassed 200,000 as cities across the country run out of hospital beds, oxygen and medicine
The State Department is now urging US citizens to not travel to India or leave the country if they can amid the country’s deepening COVID-19 crisis
According to CDC guidelines, any person flying into the US from another country, including citizens and fully vaccinated people, must provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test result no more than three days before travel
WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THE INDIA VARIANT?
Real name: B.1.617
When and where was it discovered?
The variant was first reported by the Indian government in February 2021. But the first cases appear to date back to October 2020.
What mutations does it have?
It has 13 mutations that separate it from the original virus that emerged in China — but the two main ones are named E484Q and L452R.
Scientists suspect these two alterations can help it to transmit faster and to get past immune cells made in response to older variants.
Is it more infectious?
The L452R mutation is also found on the Californian variant (B.1.429), even though the two evolved independently. It is thought to make the American strain 20 per cent more infectious.
The E484Q mutation is very similar to the one found in the South African and Brazil variants known as E484K, which can help the virus evade antibodies.
The South African variant is thought to make vaccines about 30 per cent less effective at stopping infections, but it’s not clear what effect it has on severe illness.
‘India is getting worse day by day. Luckily we came here before the flights are banned.’
Another passenger, who also lives in the US but was visiting family in India, said: ‘The airline tickets are skyrocketing. We were trying to get tickets for two hours.’
It came after a warning posted on the US Embassy in India website said some Americans had reported they were being turned away from hospitals in some cities because they are overrun.
‘New cases and deaths from COVID-19 have risen sharply throughout India to record levels. COVID-19 testing infrastructure is reportedly constrained in many locations,’ the warning said.
‘Hospitals are reporting shortages of supplies, oxygen, and beds for both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 related patients. US citizens are reporting being denied admittance to hospitals in some cities due to a lack of space.
‘Some states have enacted curfews and other restrictions that limit movement and the operation of non-essential businesses.’
According to CDC guidelines, any person flying into the US from another country, including citizens and fully vaccinated people, must provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test result no more than three days before travel.
Upon arrival in the US, CDC guidance says unvaccinated people should quarantine for 10 days. They can cut that quarantine time to seven days if they test negative for COVID three to five days after arriving.
Vaccinated travelers should get tested three to five days after travel and monitor their symptoms, according to the CDC.
The TSA announced on Friday that it was extending mask wearing on planes and in airports through September this year.
The situation in India is becoming more dire with the country recording the world’s sharpest spike in COVID infections this month that has seen cities run out of hospital beds, oxygen and medicines.
Second only to the US in total infections, India has reported more than 300,000 new cases daily for nine days in a row, hitting another global record of 386,452 on Friday.
Total deaths have surpassed 200,000 and cases are nearing 19 million – nearly 8 million since February alone as virulent new strains have combined with “super-spreader” events such as political rallies and religious festivals.
Medical experts say real numbers may be five to 10 times higher than the official tally.
Scientists are studying what led to an unexpected surge and particularly whether the variant is to blame. The variant has been reported in some 18 countries, raising global concern.
The US told citizens to leave India on any of the 14 daily commercial flights running between the two countries. Pictured is an arrivals boarding showing two flights from Delhi that arrived in Chicago on Thursday
Travelers, including passengers from an Air India flight from New Delhi, arrive at Newark Liberty International on Thursday
Passengers flying back into the US from India on Thursday and Friday told DailyMail.com that the majority of their flights were full
Those on direct flights from India were spotted arriving in Washington DC, New York and Chicago
Prominent US disease modeller Chris Murray, from the University of Washington, told Reuters that the sheer magnitude of infections in India in a short period of time suggests an ‘escape variant’ may be overpowering any prior immunity from natural infections in those populations.
‘That makes it most likely that it’s B.1.617,’ he said.
Gravediggers in India are working around the clock to bury victims and hundreds more are being cremated in makeshift pyres in parks and parking lots.
The US started sending supplies worth more than $100 million on Thursday, including 1,000 oxygen cylinders, 15 million N95 masks and 1 million rapid diagnostic tests.
The US also has redirected its own order of AstraZeneca manufacturing supplies to India, to allow it to make more than 20 million doses, the White House said.
An ambulance overburdened with Covid victims in Maharashtra state is the latest grim evidence of the carnage unfolding throughout the country of 1.4 billion as a new mutation of the virus rips through the population
A cremation ground in New Delhi is prepared for the mass burning of the bodies of Covid victims
Relatives carry their loved one through a cremation ground in Delhi on April 29. The city is recording an average of 25,000 cases each day and struggling with a critical shortage of oxygen
A US Air Force Super Galaxy military transporter is seen on the tarmac after landing at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi on Friday
Patients suffering from the coronavirus disease) receive treatment inside the emergency ward at Holy Family hospital in Delhi
Battling to find hospital beds, distraught people are flooding social media and messaging apps with heartbreaking pleas for oxygen, medicines and room in intensive care units.
An intensive care ward at one of Delhi’s major hospitals on Thursday. The city is recording 25,000 cases each day, but medics believe the true figure is ten times higher