As surging COVID-19 cases devastate India, travel restrictions to the country announced Friday by President Biden have left Indian Americans in Massachusetts worried for family and friends in their homeland.
“I’m terribly frightened about the things that are happening,” said Sanjay Gowda, of Littleton, the president of the India Association of Greater Boston. “It is a very, very tough time for people who are going through this. Many of my friends have been hospitalized, and their parents are in the hospital, and some of them are in a very severe case.”
On Thursday, Gowda’s 65-year-old mother, who lives outside Bengaluru, experienced possible symptoms of COVID-19, but so far she has tested negative, he said.
“We are keeping a close eye on any symptoms and worsening conditions, but at the same time, getting to a hospital and medical care is also a problem,” because India’s medical system has been overwhelmed by the pandemic, Gowda, 43, who works in telecommunications, said in an interview Friday evening.
With 386,452 new cases Friday, India now has reported more than 18.7 million infections since the pandemic began, second only to the United States. Also Friday, India’s Health Ministry reported 3,498 deaths in the last 24 hours, bringing the total to 208,330, according to the Associated Press.
The travel restrictions, which take effect Tuesday, bar most non-US citizens traveling from India. There are exemptions for US citizens, spouses, legal permanent residents and others, the AP reported.
Americans and permanent residents may still travel to India, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises against it. “If you must travel to India, get fully vaccinated before travel,” the CDC said on its website.
Gowda and his wife and two daughters had planned to visit relatives late last year, but that trip was canceled, as was his mother’s planned journey to Massachusetts.
Many Indian Americans travel home to see family at least once a year, often in the summer, community members said.
“It’s like Thanksgiving, but it comes in June,” said Jagan Srinivasan, of Shrewsbury.
Some had long planned to wait out the pandemic, but others have recently canceled trips, and at least one wedding is suddenly up in the air.
Local Indian Americans said they believe travel restrictions are necessary because of the rising number of coronavirus cases and potentially dangerous variants in the subcontinent, and some expected Friday’s announcement.
But the personal sacrifices still sting.
“It’s hard when you’re living so far away from home. You tend to miss home in general, and I think COVID has basically catalyzed the whole process,” said Srinivasan, 47, a biology professor at Worcester Polytechnic Institute and vice president of the India Society of Worcester.
Srinivasan usually visits his mother in Chennai twice annually, but it’s now been more than a year since he has seen the 71-year-old, who has a respiratory condition that requires 24-hour oxygen, or his uncle in Bengaluru, who has high blood pressure and severe diabetes, he said.
“Normally, summer is the time we go to meet our near and dear ones, but last summer, because of COVID here, we did not want to go and travel there,” he said. “This summer ... we planned a family get-together. ... But I think all of our plans have been put on hold.”
On Thursday, he canceled his family’s tickets for a May 15 flight.
Balki Chandrakasan, of Grafton, had planned to attend his niece’s wedding in India at the end of May, along with relatives traveling from the subcontinent and the United States.
“The wedding will happen but … it won’t happen as it was planned,” said Chandrakasan, 49, a software engineer and general secretary of the India Society of Worcester.
Chandrakasan also had hoped to have his parents, who are around 80, come to the US this summer, but he fears they may remain under lockdown for months to come.
“We can’t even plan anything, any kind of travel between India and the US at this point,” he said.
Mita Patel, of Salem, usually spends three months each winter visiting her 90-year-old mother in Gujarat, but she couldn’t go this year because of the pandemic, she said. Now Patel hopes to be able to see her in the fall.
“Right now she is not doing too well, so I was just worried that if something happens, if I have to go, what would I do?” said Patel, 69, who is president of Patidar Samaj of New England, an organization based in Andover.
For now Patel waits, checks on her mother every day, and reassures her that she will visit as soon as she can.
“I’ve been telling her that I will definitely come by October,” she said. “I hope I can live up to my promise.”