The White House, citing guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, announced Friday that it would begin restricting travel from India to the United States next week, a major new test of the Biden administration’s pandemic response.
The decision was one of the most significant steps yet taken by the White House in response to the crush of new infections in India, where over 3,000 people are dying each day as citizens gasp for air on the streets. The country recorded almost 400,000 new coronavirus cases on Thursday alone.
The White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said the policy would go into effect on Tuesday. The travel restrictions will not apply to citizens or lawful permanent residents of the United States, their spouses or minor children or siblings, or to the parents of citizens or lawful permanent residents who are under 21. People who are exempt from the ban must still abide by the guidance the United States has already put in place for international travelers, including a negative test for the virus before traveling and again upon entering the country from India, and they must quarantine if they are not vaccinated.
Doctors and news reports in India have cited anecdotal — but inconclusive — evidence to suggest that a homegrown variant called B.1.617 is driving the country’s outbreak and that people who have been fully vaccinated are getting sick.
As federal health officials, including Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, the C.D.C. director, and Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, discussed the possible move in recent days with White House officials, they emphasized that there was little known about how coronavirus vaccines respond to that variant.
One U.S. official said the travel restrictions could be modified once there was more data on vaccine response.
Researchers say that data so far suggests that another variant that has spread widely in Britain and the U.S., the highly contagious B.1.1.7, may also be a significant factor.
In the past 24 hours, U.S. military cargo planes began the first deliveries of emergency supplies promised to India by the Biden administration, with shipments of small oxygen cylinders, large oxygen cylinders, regulators, pulse oximeters, about 184,000 rapid diagnostic tests, and about 84,000 N-95 masks, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said on Friday.
After President Biden spoke with Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India, the Biden administration announced Monday that it intended to make up to 60 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine available to other countries, so long as federal regulators deem the doses safe. It was a significant, albeit limited, shift for the White House, which had been reluctant to export excess vaccines in large amounts.
As hospitals face shortages of intensive-care beds, relatives of the sick are broadcasting desperate pleas on social media for oxygen, medicine and other scarce supplies. Many Indians say they do not know if they are infected with the coronavirus because overwhelmed labs have stopped processing tests.
Several Indian states said they could not fulfill the government’s directive to expand vaccinations to all adults beginning on Saturday because they lacked doses. Only a small fraction of the country has been vaccinated so far.
Linda Qiu contributed reporting.