Biden restricts travel from India amid calls for further U.S. aid to fight COVID-19

House India Caucus cites reports of a person dying from COVID every four minutes in Delhi.

Medical staff administers Covid-19 vaccine to a beneficiary at C.R. Wadiya Hospital Vaccination Centre, on April 29, 2021 in Mumbai, India. (Praful Gangurde/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
Medical staff administers Covid-19 vaccine to a beneficiary at C.R. Wadiya Hospital Vaccination Centre, on April 29, 2021 in Mumbai, India. (Praful Gangurde/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
Posted April 30, 2021 at 3:27pm

The Biden administration is imposing new restrictions on travel from India as members of Congress call for further assistance to help the country battle a devastating spread of COVID-19.

New travel limitations take effect on May 4, the White House confirmed Friday.

“On the advice of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Administration will restrict travel from India starting immediately,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement. “The policy will be implemented in light of extraordinarily high COVID-19 caseloads and multiple variants circulating in India.”

The announcement of the travel restrictions, which CNN reported would restrict the ability of foreign nationals to enter the United States if they have been in India in recent weeks, came after Psaki was asked about the scope of U.S. assistance to India.

The U.S. government has sent two military cargo flights of supplies to India in the last 24 hours, which is just part of what the press secretary said would be provided.

“A military assistance flight departed from Travis Air Force Base at 8 p.m. [Thursday] night with a cargo including 200 small oxygen cylinders, 223 large oxygen cylinders, regulators and pulse oximeters, .... approximately 184,000 rapid diagnostic tests and approximately 84,000 N-95 [masks]. There's a second military assistance flight, departed at midnight with 17 large oxygen cylinders, both planes landed in India today,” Psaki told reporters traveling to Philadelphia aboard Air Force One. “More will come.”

There have been bipartisan calls from Capitol Hill to provide additional foreign assistance to India. The leaders of the House India Caucus wrote to President Joe Biden on Friday, citing a report from Reuters that someone dies from COVID-19 in the Delhi territory every four minutes.

India Caucus co-chairs Brad Sherman, D-Calif., and Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, and vice chairs Ro Khanna, D-Calif., and Michael Waltz, R-Fla., praised the contributions of the U.S. so far, but said much more help is needed.

“Per our recent conversation with India’s Ambassador to the United States, Ambassador Taranjit Singh Sandhu, India still desperately requires several items, most notably oxygen and oxygen production equipment,” the members wrote in Friday’s letter. “The images and stories of patients in desperate need of oxygen with nowhere to turn put a human face on India’s urgent need for this equipment.”

Psaki noted that Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in contact with his Indian counterpart, but she said no decision has been made regarding possibly easing patent protections to help bolster vaccine production abroad.

“So what our objective is, is to produce as much supply for the global community as we can in a cost-effective manner. And there are a lot of ways to do that and considerations under way as we do that. That could mean manufacturing more in the United States, where we already have facilities that are up and ... manufacturing these vaccines," Psaki said.

“Nor has there been there been a decision made, but our overall objective is to provide as much supply to the global community, and do that in a cost effective manner,” she said. “And that's our consideration.”

Vice President Kamala Harris, who was traveling to Cincinnati on Friday, also faced questions about the unfolding tragedy.

“There is no question that it is a great tragedy, in terms of the loss of life, and as I have said before, and I will say again, we as a country have made a commitment to the people of India to support them,” Harris told reporters. “And we’ve made already a commitment in terms of a dollar amount that will go to PPE and a number of other things.” Harris’ late mother, Shyamala Gopalan, was an immigrant from India.

The House India Caucus leaders noted that India has the sort of manufacturing infrastructure that would allow production of vaccines developed in the United States and elsewhere. They also cited the U.S. national interest in getting vaccines widely distributed in India, including U.S. reserves of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which has not been approved for use in the United States yet.

“With this in mind, we welcome recently announced plans to make available sources of raw materials to help India manufacture more vaccines. Further, we ask that you share with India surplus doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine as soon as possible. Finally, we also understand that India is eager to domestically produce high-quality U.S. vaccines,” the lawmakers wrote. “We hope that you work with the private sector to assess how the U.S. can best advance cooperation in this regard.”