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U.S. urges Americans abroad to come home now or prepare to be stranded

Americans evacuated from Wuhan, China, during the coronavirus outbreak deplane the Kalitta Air Boeing 747-400 freighter and are shuttled onto waiting busses at the March Air Reserve Base in Riverside, California, on Jan. 29. Photo by Etienne Laurent/EPA-EFE
Americans evacuated from Wuhan, China, during the coronavirus outbreak deplane the Kalitta Air Boeing 747-400 freighter and are shuttled onto waiting busses at the March Air Reserve Base in Riverside, California, on Jan. 29. Photo by Etienne Laurent/EPA-EFE

April 7 (UPI) -- The State Department has urged Americans stranded abroad during the coronavirus pandemic to either come home or prepare to stay where they are as the United States warns its repatriation efforts will not continue forever.

"Come home now or be ready to remain where you are," said Ian Brownlee, principal deputy assistant secretary for the Bureau of Consular Affairs and head of the U.S. repatriation task force. "The Department of State stands ready to assist our fellow citizens overseas, but we cannot guarantee that this worldwide repatriation effort will continue indefinitely."

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Since its first repatriation flight on Jan. 29, the State Department said it has evacuated more than 43,000 Americans stranded in at least 78 countries due to commercial flight cancelations or governments implementing quarantine measures amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The new figure is nearly double the 25,000 who had been brought home by March 30 and about 8,000 more than Friday with thousands more seeking assistance to return home.

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Brownlee told reporters during a special briefing on Monday that the State Department is tracking an additional 24,000 to 25,000 Americans who have "expressed some interest" in needing help to return to the United States.

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"Some Americans are waiting to see how bad it's going to get before making that call. I cannot stress this enough: Make that call now," he said, urging those unsure of what to do that now is the time "to get off the fence."

The State Department said it's working to arrange another 80 flights worldwide as it continues to see demand for help from South Asia, including Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and India.

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So far, about 2,900 citizens have been repatriated from those countries, said Alice Wells, principal deputy assistant secretary with the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs.

About 1,300 of those U.S. citizens were repatriated from India and five additional evacuation flights have been scheduled for later this week as more than 7,000 Americans there have registered for help with the U.S embassy, she said.

Wells said those in India often require subsidiary flights from other cities to get to either Delhi or Mumbai before evacuating the country.

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In Nepal, the State Department is evacuating Americans in remote, mountainous areas, she said.

"In addition to the heroic work of U.S. government personnel throughout the region, we're really very grateful to our counterparts in South and Central Asia," she said. "Whether it's local, regional, national governments, health officials customs and migration services, law enforcement agencies, civil aviation authorities and airport workers, it really is a team effort."

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The warning came after the State Department urged Americans to make plans to come home on March 30 due to the coronavirus that has now infected more than 1.3 million people worldwide and caused nearly 75,000 deaths, according to a live tracker of the virus by Johns Hopkins University.

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William Walters, deputy chief medical officer for Operations of the Bureau of Medical Operations, said 190 State Department employees at missions worldwide had been confirmed infected with COVID-19, three of whom had died from their illness.

Domestically, the State Department had 41 cases of the coronavirus and no deaths, Walters said.

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