The coronavirus surge that is lashing India, where countless funeral pyres cloud the night skies, is more than just a humanitarian disaster: Experts say uncontrolled outbreaks like India’s also threaten to prolong the pandemic by allowing more dangerous virus variants to mutate, spread and possibly evade vaccines.

The United States will begin restricting travel from India later this week, but similar limitations on air travel from China that President Trump imposed in the early days of the pandemic proved to be ineffectual.

“We can ban all the flights we want but there is literally zero way we can keep these highly contagious variants out of our country,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health.

As the coronavirus spreads among human hosts, it invariably mutates, creating opportunities for new variants that can be more transmissible or even more deadly. One highly contagious variant, known as B.1.1.7, crushed Britain earlier this year and is already well entrenched in the United States and Europe.

60 percent more contagious and 67 percent more deadly than the original form of the virus. Another worrisome variant, P.1, is wreaking havoc across South America.

On Friday, India recorded 401,993 new cases in a single day, a world record, though experts say its true numbers are far higher than what’s being reported. Peru, Brazil and other countries across South America are also experiencing devastating waves.

Virologists

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