When Ken Balaji traveled to India in March to help his brother recover from a minor surgery, he had no idea that a pandemic would leave him stranded.
“I would have stayed back," the Lansdale, Pennsylvania, resident told NBC10 on Wednesday.
All international flights to and from India were suspended on March 22 – a few days after Balaji arrived. The country is on day 10 of a 21-day national lockdown which is the largest shutdown in the world, according to the U.S. Department of State.
Balaji is among thousands of Americans the U.S. State Department is trying to bring home as air travel is shuttered by the global coronavirus pandemic.
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Still, the thought of returning to Montgomery County, the epicenter of Pennsylvania’s coronavirus epidemic, brings its own set of concerns.
India has a population of 1.3 billion people, yet has three-times fewer confirmed COVID-19 cases than Pennsylvania. As of April 1, India reported 1,834 coronavirus infections and 45 deaths. Pennsylvania, meanwhile, has nearly 6,000 confirmed cases and 81 deaths.
“It’s a mixed feeling. We want to be there, but by the same token we are afraid of what we hear from people there," Balaji said.
He says his friends and family back home have expressed concern over the rising number of local cases. Some are of urging him to stay where he is, believing at this point it may be safer. But his feeling is that anyone can get the virus, whether in the U.S. or overseas.
Balaji is eager to get back to his family who live in Montgomery County and Philadelphia – whenever that day may come.
“I would like to be there, so I can see my family. At this point, I can’t plan anything at all," he said.
For now, the Lansdale father and grandfather remains at the home of his brother and his sister-in-law in the South Indian town of Chennai. He's guided by the same orders as his family and friends back in the U.S. who are being asked to stay at home and practice social distancing.
“We recognize this is, what it is. We can only stay put,” he said.
When he does make it back to the comfort of his own home, Balaji said he will voluntarily self-quarantine for 14 days.