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Global Times

Countries slap ban on Indian travelers as the country faces explosive COVID-19 spike

Global Times

By Fan Anqi Published: Apr 21, 2021 08:46 PM

As India faces a surge in COVID-19 fueled by a "double mutant" coronavirus variant, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday warned the country of "being hit by a storm" as new infections exceeded 290,000 on Tuesday, with the country's social healthcare system on the brink of collapse.

At least six countries and regions including the US, UK, New Zealand, and China's Hong Kong Special Administrative Region have slapped travel bans on people coming from India, or strongly advised against visiting the country. Chinese experts reassured that as long as testing and quarantine measures are strictly ensured for international arrivals, Chinese don't need to worry about the spike in the neighboring country.

Since a new wave of COVID-19 ravaged the country roughly around April 15, India has faced an unrelenting surge of COVID-19 cases, with a record-high of 295,041 registered on Tuesday, according to data from the Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

In total India has recorded 15.6 million cases, second only to the US, which has over 31 million infections.

The government's failure to cope with the unexpected return of the epidemic has been met with mounting criticism, as oxygen, drugs, tests, and hospital beds remain in critically short supply.

However, during a speech delivered Tuesday evening, Modi said that despite the huge scale of the health crisis, "We have to protect the nation from lockdown."

Amid the overwhelming surge, a number of countries and regions have announced a suspension on international travels from India. New Zealand took the lead, followed by the UK and Pakistan.

The US also advised its citizens to avoid visiting the country, placing it in the highest Level 4 category which implies a "very high level of contracting COVID-19." Similar actions are also being taken by Canada and Kuwait.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga also canceled trips to India.

The Chinese embassy in India issued a notice on Tuesday, which listed 10 states in the country with the most severe epidemic situations, and reminded local Chinese to stay indoors unless necessary and abide by local epidemic prevention rules.

According to information provided to the Global Times by VariFlight, an online flight-tracking platform, all direct flights from India to Chinese mainland have been halted since November last year, with only a few chartered flights arranged by the Chinese government to pick up those in need.

China's Hong Kong SAR also placed a two-week travel ban on people coming from India, Pakistan, and the Philippines on Sunday, after officials confirmed a second local infection case from a mutated strain of the virus.

At least 53 passengers on a flight from New Delhi to Hong Kong were reported to have tested positive for coronavirus on April 4, with many questioning whether the Indian government has taken effective epidemic control measures before boarding the flight.

A Chinese national living in New Delhi surnamed Hu told the Global Times on Wednesday that medical supplies in the region are extremely scarce, and anti-virus supplies such as protective masks have also experienced an increase in prices.

Some Chinese netizens expressed concerns that the flare-up in the neighboring country may bring the virus to China via a third country.

Yang Zhanqiu, a deputy director of the pathogen biology department at Wuhan University, told the Global Times on Wednesday that as long as anti-virus measures such as nucleic acid testing and quarantining are required of all international arrivals, there is no need to panic.

On the new mutant found in India, Yang also said that no fundamental changes have occurred except for minor adjustments of the virus, and Chinese testing kits have proven effective in screening out such variants.

He added that deploying multiple means of testing, including anal swabs despite its discomfort, could provide "double guarantee" to detect virus carriers.

The Global Times learned previously that several cities, such as Beijing, Shanghai and a few in East China's Shandong Province are requiring anal swab tests on certain international arrivals from countries or regions where the virus is rife before completing quarantine periods, as health experts believe the method is more accurate than nasal and throat swabs.

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