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As India's COVID-19 Cases Rise, Americans Are Encouraged To Leave

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

India broke its own record again today for the highest number of coronavirus infections reported in a day. It reported 386,000 cases, and those are just the cases officials know. This explains why the State Department has warned Americans to leave India if they safely can. NPR's Lauren Frayer is in Mumbai. Hi there, Lauren.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Hi.

INSKEEP: What is the scale of the spread? What does 386,000 even mean?

FRAYER: Yeah, it's staggering. And it's almost certainly a vast undercount because there are whole towns that have virtually run out of test kits. People are dying at home, unable to get any medical care at all. And social media has turned into a lifeline for people. It's just turned into this flood of desperate pleas for help. Here's an example. This is a young woman named Lavanya Sharma (ph) in Delhi, and she posted this clip of herself on Twitter.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LAVANYA SHARMA: Both my parents are COVID positive, and my mother urgently needs a ventilator. No one is there to help me. Please help.

FRAYER: You can hear the desperation in her voice, and strangers are coming to the rescue. Lavanya posted an update after that, saying her mom finally got an ambulance. But it shows the breakdown of the health system here, and that's why the State Department is now telling Americans to try to leave as soon as they can.

INSKEEP: Of course, what has saved the United States from a similar fate is the spread of vaccines. How's India doing?

FRAYER: Ten percent, roughly, of people here have had one dose; less than 2% have gotten both doses. The vaccine centers where I am in Mumbai abruptly shut today. People who had appointments are out of luck. They've run out of vaccine supply. Theoretically, tomorrow, eligibility is supposed to open up nationwide to anyone over age 18. But so many states have said they do not have the shots to put in people's arms, and this is a big embarrassment for India. India's the biggest vaccine maker in the world. It was exporting vaccines pretty proudly, and now it's having to import them. The first batch of Russia's Sputnik vaccine arrives tomorrow.

INSKEEP: Lauren, I just want people to remember, you're living there in Mumbai, which is one of the most populous and crowded cities in the world. What has it just been like to be there in recent days and weeks?

FRAYER: You know, it feels like a siege. My phone - I mean, the lockdown - the local lockdown is so strict. You're not allowed to go for a walk or a jog. I haven't left my house in 30 days. My phone is beeping nonstop with friends who are so sick, who can't get medical care and who are frightened. There are some people trying to leave the country, but getting to an airport is risky. You know, you're going to rub shoulders with people in this densely populated country, and it's frightening. A lot of people are deciding to hunker down and just wait for those vaccines. But I just told you about the shortages.

INSKEEP: Well, Lauren, take care of yourself if you can.

FRAYER: Thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: NPR's Lauren Frayer in Mumbai. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.