India-US travel restrictions take effect as pandemic fears escalate

US citizens and permanent residents are exempt from the 14-day quarantine prior to arrival

Travel restrictions from India to the United States went into effect Tuesday as the alarming COVID-19 surge there is officially infecting more than 350,000 people a day.

"It was just a very close call, I had booked my flight much earlier, so I was pretty sure I would be the last one to be landing with a couple of others in my flight," said Niveditha Manoharan, who arrived Monday to Chicago from New Delhi. "People also told me that they spent really a huge amount booking and taking the flight, the last flight to the U.S."

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Last week, the Biden administration banned entry into the U.S. for travelers who have been in India within 14 days of arriving. American citizens and permanent residents are exempt. 

"As with the other proclamations restricting incoming travel due to COVID-19, this proclamation does not restrict the ability of U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, or excepted individuals to travel to the United States," said a State Department spokesperson.

The U.S. Embassy in India is warning of reports of hospitals denying American citizens admittance because they’re overwhelmed with COVD-19 cases and is urging Americans to take advantage of flights leaving the country.

There are reports of widespread oxygen and supply shortages and warnings that India’s official COVID-19 infection number, which just surpassed 20 million, significantly undercounts the true infection rate.

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"I’ve been ... trying to say to them, 'If everything goes very well, things will be horrible for the next several weeks. And it may be much longer,’" said Dr. Ashish Jha, the dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health.

The Biden administration said the U.S. is sending $100 million in supplies. Other countries are also sending aid.

As American businesses expand their operations with the winding down of pandemic restrictions, companies that employ temporary Indian workers may face significant challenges coming to the U.S. if those employees are still in India.

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The State Department has canceled all routine visa appointments throughout India, while maintaining emergency services for American citizens. 

"The pandemic continues to severely impact the number of visas our embassies and consulates abroad are able to process," said a State Department spokesperson. "We are making significant efforts with constrained resources to safely return to pre-pandemic workload levels, but are unable to provide a specific date for when this will happen at each post."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.