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India’s COVID-19 outbreak impacts students’ summer plans

As Boston University students head home for summer, a second wave of COVID-19 has struck India, infecting more than 9 million people in the past month alone. As a result, some international students from India and with family there have decided against returning.

Air India B77W plane.
An Air India B77W plane. The country’s surge in COVID-19 infections and deaths has led several Boston University students from India to refrain from returning home this summer. COURTESY OF CHRISTIAN JUNKER VIA FLICKR

According to the India Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, active cases of COVID-19 in India exceed 3.7 million as of May 10, and more than 246,000 people have died from the virus. India experienced the world’s largest daily increase in COVID-19 cases on May 6, with over 400,000 cases in one day.

Salloni Sunderaj, a rising sophomore in the Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies, said although she initially planned to visit family in India both this summer and the last one, she is unable to do so because of health concerns.

“The plan was to meet all of [my family] before I went to college in the fall but of course due to the pandemic and for my grandparents’ safety, we decided not to,” Sunderaj said. “I’ve not seen a lot of my family almost in two years.”

Sanjana Khanter, a rising senior in the College of Arts and Sciences and an international student from India, said she has an Indian passport and hopes to go home after she receives her second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, but she fears sudden changes in travel restrictions or flight availability could change her plans.

“Three and a half months is a really long time,” she said. “I do have friends who want to stay here, but there are so many friends who [have] already gone back home.”

President Joe Biden signed a proclamation saying nonimmigrant travelers who were in India within 14 days of reaching the United States cannot enter the country starting May 4 because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Khanter said she’s also worried about the vaccine’s effectiveness against new variants but is hopeful that there is a vaccine available.

“We don’t know what’s happening in the future or how things are going to pan out anymore,” she said. “I know one good thing is that the vaccine is out, so hopefully people take it at a rapid state.”

Riya Gopal, a junior in Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, said she decided not to return to India to visit family this summer because of the pandemic.

“This summer I was planning on visiting India, and even though I’m fully vaccinated, I definitely don’t want to take the chance now,” Gopal said.

She said she is concerned about the country’s lack of oxygen supplies and available hospital beds amidst the surge in cases, especially after her family’s experiences.

“Both my grandparents and my aunt tested positive for COVID-19, which is very scary to watch, and it was just scary to see that they weren’t guaranteed a hospital bed right away,” she said. “Luckily enough they managed to all get one … but there’s so many other people in India who do not have that same connection.”

Mehreen Kamal, a rising junior in CAS and vice president of the South Asian Student Association, said South Asian student groups at BU are currently holding a fundraiser for India’s COVID-19 crisis.

The fundraiser, which has the support of over 50 BU clubs, aims to raise $2,500 to donate to non-profit organizations in India to help supply resources such as oxygen cylinders, she wrote.

“The support so far has been incredible, and we are very hopeful that we would be able to meet and exceed our set goal over the next two weeks,” Kamal wrote.

Sunderaj added that what’s happening in India is not only devastating but also “a huge emotional toll.”

“A lot of us sitting in the U.S. are seeing our family members, our grandparents being directly affected by this terrible crisis,” Sunderaj said. “It’s a very emotionally charged situation.”

Ananya Jain, a rising senior in CAS, said she also won’t travel to India because of the surge in cases. She said it’s important for those of other nationalities to be informed about the rise of COVID cases in other countries to create a better understanding and environment for those affected by the issue.

“We have a very different experience than what is happening in India, but that doesn’t discount the fact that there are still people suffering,” she said. “I think it is really important to kind of create an environment where it’s open for people to feel like they can talk about it.”

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