Nearly 14,000 Americans stranded overseas
WASHINGTON — A senior State Department official says roughly 13,500 American citizens stranded abroad because of the coronavirus pandemic are seeking help in returning to the United States.
The official said Monday that thousands more Americans are expected to return on department arranged flights in the coming weeks, about 1,500 of whom are booked on flights over the next several days. The official said the repatriations are being done with a combination of military flights, chartered passenger planes and commercial airlines where airports are still open. The official said the Department of Homeland Security has also offered to bring Americans home on planes that it uses to return deportees to mainly Central American nations.
The official says that since late January the department has helped to evacuate more than 5,000 Americans from 17 countries, including early repatriation efforts for 800 people from China and more than 300 from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan. Some 1,200 from were transported from Morocco last week, the official said.
The official urges Americans abroad seeking help to enroll in the department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, or STEP, at https://step.state.gov/ to get alerts from embassies. The official says the department had over the weekend doubled the capacity of the server that handles STEP enrollments to address complaints that the system was not working well. The department has also set up call lines for Americans needing assistance: 888-407-4747 (toll free) or (202) 501-4444.
A second official says fewer than 30 State Department employees at 220 embassies, consulates and other diplomatic facilities have thus far tested positive for the virus and that the number of U.S.-based employees is in the single digits, with clusters of one or two testing positive at offices in Washington, Boston, Houston, Seattle and Quantico, Virginia. The State Department employs some 75,000 people worldwide. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to speak on the matter by name.