U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration is trying to repatriate about 13,500 Americans stranded overseas amid the accelerating coronavirus global outbreak, a State Department official revealed on Monday.
The Trump administration has already evacuated some 5,700 Americans from 17 countries, according to State.
Speaking on background, the official noted the U.S. is using military aircraft, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) deportation planes, and chartered flights to get some Americans home while asking others to avail themselves of commercial means to return when possible.
“We are also helping private carriers increase the number of flights they have,” the official said.
The window to return to the United States by commercial planes is “closing fast,” State warned.
The State Department’s message to people overseas is for them to try to leave now unless they are “ready to ride out an undetermined period of time” at their current location, the official said.
An estimated ten million U.S. citizens are living abroad. That figure, however, does not represent “the entire universe of people who would be seeking to return to the United States,” the official explained, adding:
The people who are seeking our assistance at the moment are what we might consider the expats or tourists who are overseas temporarily. They’re the ones whose homes are here in the United States, in other words trying to come home to ride out this crisis.
We have so far seen 13,500 or so thousand U.S. citizens who have requested some form of assistance [in returning home] and registered with us.
The official stopped short of saying at this point the U.S. government is confident there will be a way for every American who wants to come home to do so.
“We are hearing about people who are in very remote locations in very remote parts of the world. It’s complicated,” the official noted, later adding:
I’ve heard about individual people in remote areas in Peru, in Samoa, in [the] Banda [islands] … in Indonesia. So I am hesitant to give a guarantee we can move every single person. We are moving very large numbers of people, and we will continue this effort.
Nevertheless, the official emphasized that State has the capacity, in general, to deal with the global crisis unfolding at the moment.
“It has been a lot of hard work, and it is going to be a lot of hard work going forward, but yes, we are dealing with this. Yeah, we are devoting all of our resources to this,” the official said.
State is reportedly working with DHS, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and other agencies to repatriate Americans stuck overseas.
The State Department stressed it is rising to meet the “unprecedented global challenge” of getting home Americans overseas impacted by the widening coronavirus outbreak.
“We’re working around the clock to bring U.S. citizens who are stranded overseas back home,” the official said. “Our consular officers posted overseas, and their local employee colleagues have been working night and day to help Americans get on flights.”
“There’s a 24-7 task force here in Washington supporting that effort,” the official added.
Before establishing the task force last week, the U.S. evacuated over 800 people from the epicenter of the pandemic in Wuhan, China, over 300 from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan,” and 1,200 out of Morocco, among others from Central America and other places.
The official said:
In total, to date, we have brought home more than 5,000 Americans from 17 countries, and we’re bringing home thousands more in the coming days and weeks.
We’re looking at now 16 or so flights in the next five days, and we’ve got, at this point, over 1,600 passengers identified for those flights. There’s room for more.
He noted that, as of Monday, the Peruvian government had not yet given the okay for the U.S. to evacuate Americans stuck in the South American country.
Regarding State’s 75,000-person workforce in over 220 locations around, the official said, there is a contingency plan in place to evacuate them if necessary, adding:
If we have to charter an aircraft to bring out what we call [the] chief of mission personnel and there’s additional space available on those flights, we will make those additional seats available to private U.S. citizens seeking to depart those countries. So this is an ongoing dynamic situation as the virus spreads, and more and more posts go on authorized or ordered departure.
The number of State employees who have tested positive for the coronavirus stands at “less than 30,” the official said.
State is urging Americans overseas to enroll in the federal government’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program.
“This is how embassies communicate important health and safety information to U.S. citizens in real-time,” the official pointed out.
The official also noted that Americans could get information by calling 1-888-407-4747 from within the United States and 1-202-501-4444 from overseas.