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State Department Urges Americans To Return Home Or Stay Away For 'Undetermined Time'

The State Department is urging Americans to return home now unless they are ready to ride out the coronavirus pandemic for "an undetermined period of time." Commercial travel is becoming more difficult, though, and thousands are stranded.

State Department officials, who briefed reporters in a conference call Monday and asked not to be named, said they have heard from 13,500 Americans in need of help around the world. Some are in remote areas and the department says there is no guarantee the U.S. can bring them home.

The State Department has so far helped send about 5,700 people back to the U.S., the officials said — including approximately 1,200 from Morocco last week.

An official said the most vulnerable travelers are prioritized: "If we have somebody who is 70 years old with an underlying condition such as diabetes or heart disease, that person is going to get a higher priority on one of those flights than the hale and hearty 20-year-old."

U.S. military aircraft have been used to evacuate Americans from Honduras. The State Department has to negotiate with countries to obtain permission for privately chartered flights. That has been a challenge in Peru, where one official says Peru's capacity for handling the flights is "very limited."

Peru has closed its airport in Lima, leaving only a smaller military ramp open.

The State Department has opened an emergency call center and is encouraging Americans to sign up for the "Smart Traveler" program, which sends text messages from the local U.S. embassies, including information about flights that might have extra seats.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
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