State Department helping thousands of stranded Americans return home

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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) -- There are about 33,500 Americans who remain stranded abroad that the U.S. Department of State is working to help return home, according to spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus.

U.S. Department of State spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus discusses efforts to repatriate thousands of Americans stranded abroad as the coronavirus pandemic disrupts travel plans around the world. (Source: GrayDC)

As of Friday morning, she says about 14,000 Americans have repatriated amid the coronavirus pandemic's sudden impact on travel plans.

"We won't be satisfied until our mission is complete," said Ortagus.

Ortagus urges Americans in this situation to register online at Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to communicate overseas.

Over the next nine days, Ortagus expects nearly 70 flights will bring about 9,000 Americans home.

"We're working as diligently as we can through commercial airliners, through charter airlines, and through the military, when necessary to get Americans home," said Ortagus.

Worldwide, the novel coronavirus has already infected 590,594 people within a matter of months after originating in China. So far, 26,943 have died of the virus, according to data tracked Friday evening by Johns Hopkins.

"We're really in uncharted waters here. This is unprecedented," said Ortagus, explaining that the Department has never had to repatriate Americans from all over the globe simultaneously.

The Department of State currently has a Level 4 travel advisory in effect, which is the highest level, strongly cautioning against any international travel. Ortagus says unless absolutely necessary, going abroad is not recommended, and she expects those guidelines to be in effect "for the foreseeable future."

Latin American countries have a high concentration of American travelers, with thousands of tourists, charitable organizations and church groups having to adjust their return trips.

Ortagus reports that nearly 3,500 Americans are still in Peru. She says 1,200 Americans have returned from Peru, and on Thursday, 300 more Americans returned home. Ortagus says flights are returning from these nations every day back to U.S. soil.

Cruise passengers also found themselves stuck in recent months due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Recently, there were Americans on 50 cruise ships around the globe, but as of Friday morning, Ortagus says that is now down to 30 ships.

The border with Mexico and Canada is shut down to non-essential travel. However, Alaskans, Wisconsinites, North Dakotans and all other Americans still in those neighboring nations can return at any time.

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