The Biden administration on Friday announced it will restrict travel from India as the first U.S. relief arrived to help the country deal with a fast-growing COVID-19 crisis.
“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.”
Friday’s statement said that the restrictions will take effect on Tuesday, May 4.
The restrictions were announced on the same day some initial American aid was flown into New Delhi aboard a U.S. Air Force C-17 cargo plane, including 1,100 cylinders of oxygen that can be refilled, 1,700 oxygen concentrators, and multiple large-scale oxygen generation units arrived in India to meet the country’s dire need for oxygen-related supplies.
The U.S. also is sending 20,000 doses of remdesivir, an antiviral drug that has proven effective in treating COVID-19.
India has specifically requested certain high-priority resources, including oxygen concentrators and ventilators, therapeutics and PPE, as well as testing supplies.
The U.S. first announced that it would send supplies to India on Sunday as the situation worsened. Reported cases have surpassed 18.7 million, and deaths have topped 200,000. The World Health Organization said in a report Wednesday that India accounted for 38% of all globally reported COVID-19 cases last week.
“So, a military assistance flight departed from Travis Air Force Base at 8 p.m. last night with a cargo including 200 small oxygen cylinders, 223 large oxygen cylinders, regulators and pulse oximeters …” Psaki said during a gaggle with reporters aboard Air Force One Friday afternoon as President Joe Biden traveled to Philadelphia. “Approximately 184,000 rapid diagnostic tests, and approximately 84,000 N95s.”
Pskai also detailed a second tranche of aid which she said included 17 “large oxygen cylinders,” which has also arrived in India.
More aid was being sent Friday from Travis Air Force Base in California, and on another flight departing from Dulles International Airport outside Washington Friday evening.
State Department spokesman Ned Price called for the private sector to support the U.S. government’s new efforts and said America’s goal is only to see aid “put to immediate and effective use,” but declined to weigh in on how it should be distributed.
“Our assistance, we hope, will have a catalytic effect on society more broadly, here and around the world, to come to the aid of the Indian people,” Price said Thursday.
Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said in a tweet Friday that he had spoken with Secretary of State Antony Blinken about what Indians needed to address the pandemic. Jaishankar said India appreciates the “forthcoming response of the US in this regard.”
The U.S. also is deploying a strike team of public health experts, senior administration officials detailed Monday, to help Indian officials respond to the pandemic. On Wednesday, CDC director Rochelle Walensky said that the crisis in India is “horrifying.”
“CDC has had a very close relationship with infectious disease experts in the Ministry of Health and deploying a strike team this week to go and assist,” Walensky said.
Psaki also said during a gaggle Friday that the U.S. will “continue to communicate with India about its needs.
In addition to providing aid, the State Department has approved the voluntary departure of families of U.S diplomatic staff from India. The order is not mandatory, but families can depart on commercial flights. The order could be elevated if the situation grows worse.
The large U.S. diplomatic presence, with five consulates and one embassy, has been affected. One source told ABC News three locally-employed staff members have died in recent weeks. (By Michelle Stoddart, Conor Finnegan, Cheyenne Haslett, and Christine Theodorou / ABC News)