STATE DEPARTMENT – The United States is “considering all options” to help citizens return home from countries that have suspended air travel or closed their borders to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
Thousands of Americans are said to be stranded abroad and are desperate to return to the United States amid the COVID-19 global pandemic.
“As of March 23, we estimated the number of U.S. citizens currently seeking assistance with repatriation to be roughly 13,500,” a State Department official said.
On Tuesday, a senior official said the State Department has evacuated or authorized volunteer departure of nonemergency staff and family members to 17 overseas posts.
U.S. citizens are encouraged to first use commercial flights to return home while they are still available, the senior official said. After that, military aircrafts and private charters — through the congressional authorized special funds for unexpected emergencies — will be used to help them return.
The State Department encouraged Americans abroad to enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, which allows U.S. citizens traveling and living abroad to enroll their trip with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
Currently, more than 6.7 million U.S. citizens registered in STEP, and about 10 million U.S. citizens live overseas, the State Department said.
A 24/7 call center has also been set up to help: 888-407-4747 (inside the U.S.) or 202-501-4444 (from overseas).
The U.S. has already brought back about 9,300 people from 28 countries — largely through State Department-chartered aircrafts, including bringing more than 800 people out of Wuhan, China, in January; more than 300 out of Yokohama, Japan; about 1,200 out of Morocco last week; and others out of Central America recently, the State Department said.
“We’ll bring home thousands more on at least 40 flights over the next six days,” a senior State Department official said Tuesday during a telephone briefing.
Meanwhile, U.S. nationals stranded in Argentina, Bali, Cairo, Europe, India, Kenya, Peru, Saudi Arabia and many other places are voicing their frustration and anger on social media.
“My mother, a US citizen, is in Jordan…any updates on bringing US citizens from Jordan to here?” asked Reem Alrayyan in a March 23 tweet, as Jordan is extending a curfew indefinitely amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
“I am an admin of a group of ~2,000 Americans stuck in Peru right now. Many are nurses, doctors, volunteers, students & elderly!” said Ainsley Katz in a March 20 tweet, as Peru is shutting down all international travel.
While many countries evacuated citizens from Wuhan, China, after the coronavirus outbreak, thousands of students from African countries have been left behind.
Source: Voice of America