The United States on Thursday raised its travel alert to the highest for the whole world, urging Americans not to go overseas while urging those abroad to return immediately due to the coronavirus outbreak.
"In countries where commercial departure options remain available, US citizens who live in the United States should arrange for immediate return to the United States, unless they are prepared to remain abroad for an indefinite period," the US State Department said in its advisory.
Travel Advisory: Level 4 - The Department of State advises U.S. citizens to avoid all international travel due to the global impact of #COVID19. In countries where commercial departure options remain available, U.S. citizens who live in the US should arrange for immediate return. pic.twitter.com/MydSzFffYd— Travel - State Dept (@TravelGov) March 19, 2020
Politico first reported the news ahead of the announcement.
The alert came a day after the State Department on Wednesday suspended all routine visa services in most countries due to the virus, a move potentially affecting hundreds of thousands of people.
In response to #COVID19, @StateDept is suspending routine visa services in most countries. Routine visa services will resume ASAP but we are unable to provide a specific date at this time. Check embassy/consulate websites for current operating status: https://t.co/vIXaMPomVS pic.twitter.com/uDuLjkKZmW— Travel - State Dept (@TravelGov) March 18, 2020
The coronavirus, which emerged in China late last year, has infected over 236,000 people and killed more than 9,700, a stunning epidemic that has drawn comparisons with periods such as World War Two, the 2007-2009 financial crisis and the 1918 Spanish flu.
Normal life has come to a near-standstill across much of the globe with schools shut down, flights and industries halted, sports and arts events postponed, and people advised or forced by their governments to remain indoors to prevent the spread of the virus.
Americans have been stuck in some countries as flights were abruptly canceled. Washington Post on Wednesday reported that hundreds of US citizens could not leave Morocco after the country halted all inbound and outbound international travel.
US Ambassador to Morocco David Fischer said in a video posted on Twitter that the embassy and State Department in Washington were "working around the clock" to get every American home safely. "We have received your phone calls, your emails. We've heard the stories and as soon as we have guidance, we will be sending a message," he said.