On Tuesday May 4th, the United States put strict restrictions on travel from India into U.S. airports, joining the rest of the world in holding the country at arm’s length. India is currently suffering from an extremely heavy surge of coronavirus infections. Over 400,000 new cases reported daily, and health experts in India and abroad believe that the numbers are being dangerously undercounted. Scientists believe the real number could be between three and ten times as high.
So far, Canada, the U.K., Germany, Belgium, New Zealand, Australia, The UAE, Singapore, Saudia Arabia, Iran, Oman, Kuwait, Indonesia, Malawi, the Maldives, Tanzania, the Netherlands, Hong Kong, Thailand, and Italy have also banned nearly all arrivals from India. In the case of Australia, not even Australian citizens visiting the country are currently being allowed to come home.
“There is deep worry over the well-being of family and friends,” says Radhika Sunderaj, a stranded Australian citizen. She returned to India last year to plan her son’s wedding. The wedding wound up being canceled because of the surging pandemic, but now she cannot travel from India back home to Australia to resume her life. No end date has been set for the India-Australian ban. She was not told this directly, and only learned it when her return flight was canceled and she couldn’t book another.
China will only allow travel from India if travelers have been vaccinated with Sinovac, the only COVID-19 vaccine approved for use in China, but that vaccine is not available in India. Nepal, which is also seeing a coronavirus surge, has shut down two-thirds of its border checkpoints.
The travel restriction in the United States exempts students and tourists, but that still leaves many, many people stuck on one side of the ban or the other. Indian nationals living in the U.S. cannot go home to help family, even if they’re vaccinated, for fear of not being allowed to return.