Over 50,000 Americans are stranded overseas and struggling to find a route back home as borders close and coronavirus quarantines make travelling increasingly difficult, if not impossible, for many Americans.
The state department is said to be tracking those who are likely to need assistance due to the global Covid-19 pandemic, and has previously said their advice for US citizens abroad is to ‘get out while you can’. This is proving more difficult for some.
Since the outbreak began, the government has helped bring home more than 9,000 American citizens from 28 different countries, according to Ian Brownlee, head of the State Department’s repatriation task force.
Tourists from the United States wait outside the closed Jorge Chavez International Airport, Peru, for a member of the U.S. Embassy to escort them to a flight home
However, the numbers of American in need of help keeps rising. Originally, the state department said just 13,500 US nationals needed assistance. As more borders have closed and more quarantines are introduced, this number has increased to over 50,000.
‘Our posts around the world have received requests for assistance for getting back to the United States from over 50,000 U.S. citizens. We’re committed to bringing home as many Americans as we possibly can,’ Brownlee said.
‘Inasmuch as this is a truly unprecedented event, the State Department’s capacity to do this is being strained,’ he added. ‘We’re talking to the Department of Defense as to whether they can potentially help us out in lining up aircraft.’
In his statement, Brownlee said that the department is keeping a ‘running tally’ of US Citizens in need of assistance returning home, but that the number changes ‘daily, hourly’.
Brownlee added that a further 66 flights will bring home another 9,000 Americans stranded abroad in the next nine days, leaving the situation unclear for the remaining 41,000 or more who will be left stranded.
Ian Brownlee is heading up the US State Department’s repatriation task force, and says the department has received 50,000 Requests for assistance for getting back to the United States
According to NBC News, over 4,000 US nationals are stranded in Peru with a further 7,000 attempting to get out of Ecuador. Many citizens are saying the criteria being used by the US State Department to determine who to prioritize is unclear.
Brownlee said that people who are most at-risk to the coronavirus – the elderly and the ill – are given priority.
A number of the State Department’s own employees have tested positive for the coronavirus overseas. William Walters, managing director for operational medicine in the department’s Bureau of Medical Services said this number was 58, with a further 16 in cities in the US.
The US Department of State, Washington, is talking to the department of defense about using military planes to bring people home
As reported by CNN, state official’s advice to citizens abroad is to ‘get out while you can’, saying: ‘If you are a US citizen, and you are abroad at the moment, take a look at your circumstances, determine whether this is a place where you’d be willing to hunker down for an indeterminate period of time, as airspace and borders etc close down.’
‘If you are somewhere where you think, “No this is not where I would want to be over the long haul,” take advantage of existing commercial opportunities and get out now.
The official said they were ‘hesitant to give a guarantee’ that they could move every single person, and were concerned about those in the most remote of locations which make repatriation efforts very challenging when trying to move such large numbers of people.
One man told CNN how he spent $15,000 to charter a six-person flight back to Miami from Honduras and said that while it was a huge sum of money, it was worth it to get his family home.