March 19, 2020 / 3:15 PM / 14 days ago

U.S. urges Americans to avoid all overseas travel due to coronavirus

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - 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.

U.S. President Donald Trump takes questions during the coronavirus response daily briefing at the White House in Washington, U.S., March 19, 2020. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

“In countries where commercial departure options remain available, U.S. 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 U.S. State Department said in its advisory.

It also asked Americans to have a travel plan that does not rely on the U.S. government.

“If you choose to travel internationally, your travel plans may be severely disrupted, and you may be forced to remain outside of the United States for an indefinite timeframe,” the advisory said.

Passport services are limited to those with a “qualified life-or-death emergency” and who need to travel abroad within 72 hours.

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.

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 U.S. citizens could not leave Morocco after the country halted all inbound and outbound international travel.

U.S. 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.

Reporting by David Shepardson, Humeyra Pamuk, Jeff Mason, Alexandra Alper and Ted Hesson; Writing by Susan Heavey and Humeyra Pamuk, Editing by Franklin Paul, Bill Berkrot, Marguerita Choy and Richard Chang

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