Indians in US feel helpless as COVID-19 ravages communities on subcontinent

Dr. Sajal Tanna tries to counsel family and friends in India from Chicago. Just a few months ago, India’s ruling party declared the pandemic was over -- now the situation is worse than ever.
7:28 | 05/04/21

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Transcript for Indians in US feel helpless as COVID-19 ravages communities on subcontinent
The first thing I smelled is smoke. The problem here is way bigger than anything anybody realizes at this moment. That smoke coming from the funeral pyres set up in India, cremating bodies so frequently that some authorities have had to cut down trees in parks to use as kindling for the fires. The second most populous country in the world buckling under the weight of the sick and dying. People gasping for air on the street. This man attempting to revive his brother in a rickshaw.- Hospital no more beds. No more beds. We have patients who are waiting here for two days. They're not finding any they just wanted oxygen. Reporter: This video showing family members fanning their loved ones with towels, a desperate attempt to keep them alive. The numbers are staggering. Almost 20 million confirmed cases, over 200,000 dead. And nearly 370,000 cases in the past 24 hours alone. Last night, 24 patients died in a single hospital because of oxygen shortages. India now accounts for one in every two global daily cases of covid-19. I did not expect anything this catastrophic. I think all of us have been taken aback by just how bad things are. Reporter: India is running short on the covid vaccine. Russia donated some of its doses and president Biden has directed vaccine manufacturing supplies to India, which will allow the country to make over 20 million doses. There is a new variant that is arisen from India. This variant is pretty widespread in India. When the numbers started rising, the policymakers of India did not respond. They continued to hold large rally, have lots and lots of big and unfortunately, all of that contributed to the spread. Reporter: Late last week, the first American planes carrying desperately needed supplies, including oxygen finally arriving in India. President Biden offering even more help. We'll be able to send actual vaccines to India, which would be my intention to do. Reporter: Cries for help coming from millions of Indians in the United States watching the catastrophe from afar. Yeah, so this is only part of the story. Reporter: Including this doctor. She helped treat the very first covid positive patient admitted in Chicago's northwestern memorial hospital 14 months ago, and was part of the team that performed the country's first post covid double lung transplant. I really thought that things were going to get better from here on out. Reporter: But today, between her patients at the hospital, the infectious disease specialist is responding to messages from her family members and friends in India, desperate for her guidance. How you guys feeling? We're good. They send me their lab reports and ask me what these labs mean. We look at their medications. Yeah, I saw your dad's medicine list. It was very long. Also, should they leave the house to get the vaccine? Is it really worth it to risk their lives out there to get the vaccine. Does it feel like deja Vu from the height of the pandemic when you were kind of dealing with the worst of the worst? Yes, but it's worse than anything I could have ever imagined. A lot of people are still testing positive even if they're fully vaccinated. The initial goal is 15 days from a second shot. But you guys do say still you can get covid. It's really tough to go in every day and try to convince my patients to get the covid vaccine for them to say they're not interested or maybe they'll wait and see or they're not too sure about it right now, and meanwhile there are a billion in India who would love to be fully vaccinated, and they don't have those resources. Reporter: In recent week, already four of her family members and friends have passed away in India, with more recovering at home or in the hospital. What's your reaction when you hear that phone buzz now? I get a knot in my stomach. Reporter: That same feeling of drug fills this woman even as she tries to surround herself with the comforts of home. Here in New York, that means a cup of chai. There is something so nostalgic about smelling it when I'm home. Reporter: When the pandemic hit last spring, it was her grandparents who kept her positive. We love to facetime. They would always put a smile on my face and make me feel better, which is why it's so devastating now that India is going through their own crisis, and I feel unable to be able to give them the support that they really need. Reporter: Do you feel like your hands are kind of tied behind your back? Absolutely. Reporter: Her grandparents are currently battling covid-19. They are very independent. So the type of people who don't ask for help and they don't rely on people either. And that's what we've been dealing with the past couple of days is just trying to connect with anyone on the ground. A lot of family members themselves have covid, and they're recovering. So we aren't able to rely on the support systems that we normally would have. Reporter: You kind of called this virus an equalizer in a way. I've been seeing pleas from the most privileged folks, the most connected folks who are asking for plasma donations, who are asking for oxygen. And yeah, it definitely has been an equalizr. Reporter: Many communities in India are fending for themselves, feeling betray bade government they say hasn't done enough to combat the pandemic. It was just two months ago that India's ruling party declared the pandemic was over, with prime minister narendra Modi holding large election rallies, despite urging caution in April as the company observed the festivals. For two months we've been seeing the data getting worse and worse, and the federal government, the central government of India largely just ignored it. And therefore the Indian government really does bear some large chunk of responsibility for not having acted more quickly on this. Reporter: In the U.S., a vastly different picture. Coronavirus cases dropping under 50,000 for the first time since October. In New York City today, 80,000 government workers returning to their offices. The state announcing full reopening for businesses on may We're ready. We're ready. I'm ready. We're ready. Reporter: As life begins to return to normal in the U.S., the government not taking any chances on the variant spreading here. At midnight tonight, the U.S. Bans most travelers from India, except for American citizens. Travel bans like this can slow down the spread of a disease from one country to another. It never prevents it, because, again, the borders are porous. We should not see it as some panacea that protects the American people from what's happening elsewhere. Reporter: While over 100 million Americans are now fully vaccinated, the fight to get even more Americans vaccinated is still an ongoing challenge. Demand for vaccines has plunged 12% in the past week. Across the country, new incentives to get the shot, from free beer to free donuts with proof of vaccination. Detroit paying $50 to people who offer rides to vaccination sites. My plea to everyone, get vaccinated now. Please. Reporter: Experts say vaccination is the only way out. Until the whole world is vaccinated, we're going to be dealing with a lot of problems. India is a big, beautiful country, and I know it seems far away, but really, it affects every single one of us. These people aren't statistics to me or to anybody else who's Indian American or the fabric of our lives.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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