This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
The United States has said it is evacuating thousands of Peace Corps volunteers from abroad due to the rapid spread of the deadly coronavirus.
The Peace Corps, a U.S. government-funded agency providing assistance around the world, announced on its website it would temporarily suspend volunteer operations from “all posts.”
“We are acting now to protect the health of volunteers and prevent a situation where volunteers are unable to leave their host countries and return to the United States,” the agency said.
The Peace Corps did not specify how it was arranging for the volunteers to leave the foreign countries and told them “not to share evacuation details with others online, including on social media.”
The United States has imposed international travel restrictions to help slow the spread of the coronavirus and has advised citizens abroad to return home. Many other countries have also imposed international travel restrictions that have already left some U.S. citizens stranded abroad.
Peace Corps volunteers work in developing countries where health-care systems are generally underfunded. The coronavirus is overwhelming some health-care systems in advanced economies and could do the same in developing countries, experts have said.
The agency said it was returning volunteers to the United States now, even though the country currently has the fourth-largest number of coronavirus cases globally, because it could be difficult to evacuate them for other medical emergencies, such as trauma or surgery, due to airport closures.
The Peace Corps currently has 7,334 volunteers serving in 61 countries, according to the agency’s website. About 13 percent, or nearly 1,000 volunteers, serve in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, including Albania, Armenia, Moldova, and Ukraine.
They serve in jobs that focus on health, education, agriculture, community development, and the environment.
The volunteers, who normally serve for a period of two years, are paid living expenses that are in accordance with local standards and could be just a few hundred dollars a month.
The Peace Corps said it will pay the volunteers an “evacuation allowance” that is calculated based on the length of service. The volunteers will also receive two-month health-care coverage upon their return to the United States.
As volunteers, they are not eligible for unemployment benefits.
The volunteers will be able to reapply for service when the coronavirus threat is over, the agency said on its website. The Peace Corps said it was not closing paid staff positions.
AmeriCorps, the U.S.-focused equivalent of the Peace Corps, has told some volunteers to pause their work.