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State Department urging Americans to leave India as COVID-19 cases surge

State Department urging Americans to leave India as COVID-19 cases surge
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The State Department is urging all Americans to leave India as the country grapples with a devastating wave of coronavirus cases that is pushing its health system to a breaking point.

In a level 4 travel alert, the highest level that can be issued by the State Department, the U.S. Embassy in India sounded the alarm over the availability of medical care and pressed Americans to take advantage of the daily flights that are available out of India back to the U.S.

“Access to all types of medical care is becoming severely limited in India due to the surge in Covid-19 cases. U.S. citizens who wish to depart India should take advantage of available commercial transportation options now. Direct flights between India and the United States are offered daily, with additional flight options available to U.S. citizens via transfers in Paris and Frankfurt,” the embassy said.

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“The current Level 4 Travel Advisory is the highest level issued by the Department of State and advises U.S. citizens not to travel to India or to leave as soon as it is safe to do so due to the current health situation in country.”

The State Department on Thursday also authorized voluntary departures for the families of U.S. government employees working in India.

A State Department spokesperson said that the authorization for families was made out of "an abundance of caution" as well as "current conditions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic and diminishing commercial flight options."

The spokesperson also said the State Department is reviewing whether to authorize departures for staff at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi and its consulates. A decision is expected in the next 30 days.

"Our hearts go out to the people of India as they navigate this next surge of COVID cases," the spokesperson said.

"U.S. Embassy New Delhi and its consulates remain open and are offering limited consular services. We strongly encourage U.S. citizens in India who wish to depart to take advantage of commercial flights. We also always encourage U.S. citizens, whenever they travel abroad, to enroll their travel plans on www.travel.state.gov using the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), and to read the country information found on travel.state.gov."

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The travel advisory comes as India faces one of the worst waves of coronavirus infections the world has seen since the start of the pandemic last year.

The country shattered a global record on Wednesday with 362,757 new cases, pushing its total case count to over 17.9 million. Nearly 3,300 people died on Wednesday.

The spike in cases and deaths has stretched the limits of India’s health system, with hospitals reportedly facing dire shortages of critical tools like ventilators, oxygen and vaccine materials.

The U.S. is commencing aid flights on Thursday in an effort to send India over $100 million worth of assistance.

The assistance includes oxygen cylinders, concentrators that obtain oxygen out of the air, 15 million N95 masks, 1 million rapid tests, and experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The U.S. is also sending supplies to help with the manufacturing of over 20 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

--Laura Kelly contributed to this report, which was updated at 11:08 a.m.