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US warns time running out to evacuate Americans overseas

Southwest Airplanes at Chicago Midway International Airport (Dreamstime/TNS)
April 03, 2020

The United States may not be able to evacuate citizens caught overseas as the global coronavirus pandemic continues to spread with no end in sight.

After the U.S. government issued a Travel Advisory 4 on March 19 that warned citizens abroad to find a safe way home as soon as possible or face the possibility of staying abroad indefinitely, more than 31,000 citizens have been repatriated since then, AFP reported. Now the U.S. government is warning those still left abroad might not be able to return home.

“If you are on the beach when an earthquake strikes, you wouldn’t just stand there waiting for the coming tsunami; you would head for higher ground immediately,” senior State Department official Ian Brownlee said.

“Well, in this case, the earthquake has happened,” he told reporters. “It’s time to seek higher ground now, and not hope for a rescue later.”

The United States has brought home 31,00o citizens from 60 countries, according to Brownlee. The United States has arranged 350 flights and has another 80 scheduled but 24,00 more Americans may still seek repatriation. The majority of the Americans who may request repatriation are in South Asia and Central and South America.

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There are 20 million Americans living abroad, so the vast majority may have decided to stay where they are, according to AFP.

“There’s no guarantee the Department of State will be able to continue to provide repatriation assistance and transportation options from many countries to the US may become unavailable in the future, even in a few weeks’ time,” he said.

On March 14, the State Department authorized U.S. personnel and family members from any diplomatic or consular post in the world if they determined they are at high risk of a poor outcome if exposed to the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, according to an announcement from the State Department.

“These departures may limit the ability of U.S. Embassies and consulates to provide services to U.S. citizens,” the statement added.

The action resulted in about half of overseas U.S. diplomats, or some 6,000, returning home, an unprecedented number until this time. Prior to the outbreak, there were about 9,300 U.S. diplomats and 2,300 family members overseas, according to the State Department. Two U.S. posts — Wuhan, China, and Vladivostok, Russia — have closed, but most are still running with limited staff.

According to John Hopkins’ latest tracking data, across the globe, there are more than one million confirmed cases of coronavirus and more than 52,000 deaths. Notably, more than 210,000 people have recovered from the virus. There are at least 245,000 confirmed cases and nearly 6,000 deaths in the United States from the virus so far.