First US aid arrives in India amid COVID crisis

As India faced a growing crisis with COVID-19 spreading rapidly through the country, the first U.S. relief to help with the pandemic has began to arrive, including a planeload of badly needed oxygen supplies in New Delhi on Friday.

The initial U.S. aid includes 1,100 cylinders of oxygen that can be refilled, 1,700 oxygen concentrators and multiple large-scale oxygen generation units. The U.S. also is sending 20,000 doses of remdesivir, an antiviral drug that has proven effective in treating COVID-19.

India has specifically requested certain high-priority resources, including oxygen concentrators and ventilators, therapeutics and PPE, as well as testing supplies.

PHOTO: Ground staff unload COVID-19 relief supplies from the U.S. at the Indira Gandhi International Airport cargo terminal in New Delhi on April 30, 2021.

The U.S. first announced that it would send supplies to India on Sunday as the situation worsened. Reported cases have surpassed 18.7 million, and deaths have topped 200,000. The World Health Organization said in a report Wednesday that India accounted for 38% of all globally reported COVID-19 cases last week.

More aid was being sent Friday from Travis Air Force Base in California, and on another flight departing from Dulles International Airport outside Washington Friday evening.

State Department spokesman Ned Price called for the private sector to support the U.S. government’s new efforts and said America’s goal is only to see aid “put to immediate and effective use,” but declined to weigh in on how it should be distributed.

“Our assistance, we hope, will have a catalytic effect on society more broadly, here and around the world, to come to the aid of the Indian people,” Price said Thursday.

Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said in a tweet Friday that he had spoken with Secretary of State Antony Blinken about what Indians needed to address the pandemic. Jaishankar said India appreciates the “forthcoming response of the US in this regard.”

PHOTO: An U.S Air Force aircraft carrying COVID-19 relief supplies is seen on the tarmac after landing at the Indira Gandhi International Airport cargo terminal in New Delhi on April 30, 2021.

The U.S. also is deploying a strike team of public health experts, senior administration officials detailed Monday, to help Indian officials respond to the pandemic. On Wednesday, CDC director Rochelle Walensky said that the crisis in India is “horrifying.”

“CDC has had a very close relationship with infectious disease experts in the Ministry of Health and deploying a strike team this week to go and assist,” Walensky said.

PHOTO: Ground staff unload COVID-19 relief supplies from the U.S. at the Indira Gandhi International Airport cargo terminal in New Delhi on April 30, 2021.

In addition to providing aid, the State Department has approved the voluntary departure of families of U.S diplomatic staff from India. The order is not mandatory, but families can depart on commercial flights. The order could be elevated if the situation grows worse.

The large U.S. diplomatic presence, with five consulates and one embassy, has been affected. One source told ABC News three locally-employed staff members have died in recent weeks.

The State Department has declined to say whether the U.S. would ban travel to India, although travelers from India and any foreign country have to show a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours before they can board.

Price said at a briefing Thursday that any decision would be made “under the advice of public health professionals at CDC and HHS.”

White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients demurred on Friday about whether the Biden administration would impose a travel ban, but did not rule it out.

“So, in terms of travel from India, we remain in very close contact with our foreign counterparts and are continuously monitoring the situation, our current inbound travel precautions and mandatory testing before travel, the quarantine for unvaccinated individuals and the retesting,” Zients said, answering a reporter’s question at a White House briefing.

ABC News’ Cheyenne Haslett and Christine Theodorou contributed to this report.

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