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U.S. Restricts Travel From India Amid COVID-19 Surge

Older woman in India during a COVID lockdown order.

Suprabhat Dutta / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • On May 4, the United States government restricted the travel of foreign nationals from India to the U.S.
  • The restriction is in response to a surge of COVID-19 cases in India and will significantly impact Indian Americans and immigrants who will not be able to go home and visit their families.
  • Individuals can help by supporting and donating to mutual aid and fundraising efforts.

On May 4, the United States government enacted travel restrictions on India amid a surge in COVID-19 cases in the country, limiting most non-U.S. citizens from traveling to the U.S.

The ban does not apply to U.S. citizens and permanent residents, journalists, certain students and academics, and people traveling for humanitarian, public health, or national security reasons.

“What happens in India—or really anywhere in the world—affects all of us,” Krutika Kuppalli, MD, assistant professor of medicine in the division of infectious diseases at the Medical University of South Carolina, tells Verywell. “The situation in India will have downstream global effects and it is in our best interests to get this under control.”

Why Is There a Surge of COVID-19 Cases in India?

About three months after India's Ministry of Health and Family Welfare announced that the country's COVID-19 infections and mortality reached an all-time low, the country experienced the highest daily tally of new COVID-19 infections ever recorded globally.

With 314,835 new cases recorded on April 22, India's case count exceeded the previous highest one-day rise of COVID-19 cases set by the U.S. back in January. The country's numbers continued to set and surpass a new global record as the days passed. As of May 8, India reported 401,078 new infections.

“The surge is due to a complex number of things and not just one thing,” Kuppalli says. “India has very complicated population density issues that intersect its socio-economic dynamics. This, along with the relaxing of public health measures, set up a perfect storm for the surge to occur. I also think there was a false narrative [that] India ‘beat’ the pandemic because they did relatively well compared to other countries during the first wave.”

Kartik Cherabuddi, MD, FACP, hospital epidemiologist and associate professor of infectious diseases and global medicine at the University of Florida, tells Verywell that other factors contributing to the surge may include “poor leadership, mass gatherings, a slow vaccination drive, lack of public health infrastructure, and variants that are more communicable with inadequate protective immunity from prior infection."

The Impact on India's Healthcare System

The massive surge of cases continues to overwhelm India’s healthcare system, leading to shortages of basic supplies and hospital beds.

“For context, this is like what we experienced in New York City, only exponentially widespread and worse,” Cherabuddi says. “We have not yet seen the peak of this second wave and that is concerning as deaths will follow.”

India currently needs:

  • Oxygen cylinders
  • Delivery equipment and concentrators
  • Pulse oximeters
  • Frontline medical provider supplies
  • COVID-19 tests
  • COVID-19 vaccines and raw materials to produce it
  • Hospital beds
  • Ambulances

“We are witnessing an unprecedented humanitarian crisis in India and neighboring countries,” Cherabuddi adds. “This is not just about medical care. It will affect every aspect of human life in the Indian subcontinent and beyond. The repercussions include regional and global spread, delayed supply of COVID-19 vaccines from India to the world, and impact on global medicine supply.”

Why Is a Travel Restriction Necessary?

Throughout the pandemic, countries have enacted travel restrictions and bans in an effort to contain the spread of COVID-19. 

“Travel restrictions and lockdowns are epidemiological tools that help prevent spread when there is a huge surge in cases,” Cherabuddi says. “We have learned from prior experiences during this pandemic that they must be implemented in a humane manner. Travel advisories and restrictions are consistent with standard public health response to any epidemic or pandemic.”

However, “travel restrictions don’t prevent these variants from spreading and that by the time a variant is detected in another country, it has likely already spread,” Kuppalli says, adding that these bans will only slow the spread of variants—not prevent them.

According to Cherabuddi, a supervised or mandatory quarantine upon return to the U.S. in addition to a travel warning was a possible alternative.

Travel Restrictions Are Affecting Indian Americans

The current travel restrictions were implemented as a necessary public health measure, but now some Indian Americans and Indian immigrants in the U.S. are unable to see their families in person. "Even figuring out how to send supplies to them is a challenge as well," Kuppalli says.

“Indian Americans and communities are dealing with their friends and family members, including immediate family, becoming seriously ill or passing away,” Cherabuddi says. “There is a strong sense of helplessness, guilt, and grief of not being there for their loved ones in this time of need.”

Fully vaccinated individuals with relatives in India may have been looking forward to visiting their families. But travel restrictions make the situation even more fraught.

“It is really difficult to not be able to visit family, and stay away from loved ones,” Lija Joseph, MD, adjunct associate professor of pathology & laboratory medicine at the Boston University School of Medicine, tells Verywell. “I know of some who are not able to go home for the funerals of their loved ones, which makes it really difficult to bring closure in addition to the tragedy of the pandemic.”

Cherabuddi says the COVID-19 crisis in India may lead to some long-term effects including “the negation of gains made over the past decade in poverty, literacy, hunger, malaria, [and] HIV and TB control and mortality. On a global scale, most of humanity has not been vaccinated and this surge will spread like wildfire unless swift action is taken."

What This Means For You

You can show your solidarity by supporting and donating to mutual aid and fundraising initiatives working to help India contain the surge of COVID-19 cases and recover. Cash supplies will be used to provide medical equipment, food, and other necessary provisions.

How Can I Help?

The U.S. government is stepping up to help India, Joseph says. The U.S. promised to send about 60 million doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine when it receives approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has also provided cash assistance, oxygen cylinders and regulators, rapid diagnostic tests, and N-95 respirators.

“The U.S. government has supported waiver of IP protections on COVID-19 vaccines which is helpful, but we must do more, including active intervention with provision of vaccine supplies and partnering with agencies in the production of vaccines which is crucial to curb further surges and deaths,” Cherabuddi says. “This is the time to help build capacity, exert influence on the government, and galvanize the international community in tackling this crisis.”

Kartik Cherabuddi, MD, FACP

It is not too late. Many communities and agencies have already led the way to action and are making a difference.

— Kartik Cherabuddi, MD, FACP

Other countries aside from the U.S. are also offering aid, but individuals can make a difference, too. 

“It is not too late. Many communities and agencies have already led the way to action and are making a difference,” Cherabuddi says. “Individuals can show solidarity, advocate for support, and participate in donating effort or money to recognized agencies.”

You can support initiatives like OxygenForIndia to provide medical oxygen to hospitals and patients at home or Mazdoor Kitchen to supply meals to daily wage workers in Delhi. Online fundraising platforms like Mutual Aid India and Give India have plenty of crowdfunding campaigns on their website as well.

Many community organizers are also running mutual aid and fundraisers for vulnerable communities in India without social safety nets, and you may donate directly to the tribal families in Maharashtra, rural transgender people in Tamil Nadu, or Indians living in resettlement colonies in Chandigarh.

“There are many organizations that are providing online fundraising portals,” Joseph says. “Please support these efforts.”

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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  1. The White House. A Proclamation on the Suspension of Entry as Nonimmigrants of Certain Additional Persons Who Pose a Risk of Transmitting Coronavirus Disease 2019. Updated April 30, 2021.

  2. U.S. Department of State - Bureau of Consular Affairs. Presidential Proclamation on the Suspension of Entry as Nonimmigrants of Certain Additional Persons Who Pose a Risk of Transmitting Coronavirus Disease 2019. Updated April 30, 2021.

  3. World Health Organization (WHO). WHO Coronavirus Tracker. Updated May 8, 2021

  4. U.S. Agency for International Development. United States Airlifts Emergency Supplies to Help India Address Deadly Second Wave of Covid-19 Pandemic. Updated April 28, 2021.