‘Unprecedented’: U.S. Repatriates over 25,000 Stranded Americans During Coronavirus Pandemic 

Passengers wear protective masks at Los Angeles international airport. New Zealand is seeking to bring back affected residents from Wuhan on a chartered Air New Zealand flight. Photograph: Mark Ralston/AFP via Getty Images
Mark Ralston/AFP via Getty Images

The Trump administration is working to repatriate “an additional 9,000” American citizens stranded overseas because of the coronavirus global pandemic after helping over 25,000 return home, a State Department official revealed on Monday.

During the White House coronavirus press briefing on Tuesday, U.S. President Donald Trump touted the State Department’s efforts to bring U.S. citizens homes as “one of the largest and most complex international evacuation operations in American history.”

“Our repatriation flights continued through the weekend, and I am pleased to report that we have thus far brought home over 25,000 Americans from over 50 countries,” Ian Brownlee, the principal deputy assistant secretary from the Bureau of Consular Affairs at State, told reporters on Monday. “We are tracking over 100 additional flights over the next week, and we have identified an additional 9,000 U.S. citizens who have indicated [an] interest in those flights.”

The Trump administration is reportedly 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 do not know how long commercial flights will remain available, nor do we know how long the U.S. Government will be able to facilitate additional flights where commercial options no longer exist,” Brownlee said. “It is therefore imperative that U.S. citizens make plans now to avail themselves of these options.”

Speaking on background on March 23, a State official noted that the department’s message to people overseas is for them to try to leave unless they are “ready to ride out an undetermined period of time” at their current location.

“We are seeing more U.S. citizens decide to stay abroad and ride out this crisis where they are,” Brownlee pointed out on Monday.

He acknowledged that while the U.S. has repatriated nearly 2,800 U.S. citizens from Peru, some Americans are not allowed to leave the South American country because they are under quarantine.

“Quarantine measures due to the outbreak of COVID-19 are enforced by Peru’s ministry of health, and exceptions are not made for international tourists,” he said.

In mid-March, Peru shut down its land, air, and maritime borders to stem the spread of the virus, leaving hundreds of Americans stranded.

According to Brownlee, some high-level officials at State are working to address the issue of Americans stuck at quarantine facilities in Peru.

“We are working to ensure that travelers placed under quarantine have access to appropriate food and healthy living conditions,” he said, later adding, “We continue to see the demand for repatriation assistance from U.S. citizens in Central and South America, and now we are seeing growing interest from U.S. citizens wanting to return from Asia, India, Bangladesh, and Indonesia.”

The highly contagious and deadly coronavirus illness has spread to 179, or over 90 percent, of the countries and territories of the world, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker.

Dozens of State officials from the department’s 75,000-strong workforce in over 220 locations around the globe have reportedly caught the coronavirus.

“Our current [coronavirus] caseload overseas is only 75 cases – five hospitalized, all locally employed,” Dr. William Walters, the deputy chief medical officer for operations at State’s Bureau of Medical Services, revealed.

“Domestically we have 30 cases in nine cities. Most cities are single case or two cases,” Dr. Walters added. “We do not have a documented case of employee-to-employee transmission.”

There is a contingency plan in place to evacuate department employees if necessary.

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 unnamed State official said on March 23.

As of Tuesday evening, there were more than 850,580 coronavirus cases across the world and over 41,650 fatalities, the Johns Hopkins tracker showed.

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