State Department advises Americans to avoid all international travel amid coronavirus outbreak

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The State Department advised United States citizens on Thursday to avoid all international travel due to the outbreak of coronavirus around the globe, urging Americans abroad to arrange for an “immediate return” to the U.S. unless they plan to stay out of the country for “an indefinite period.”

Fox News reported early Thursday that the State Department would raise its global travel advisory to a Level 4, “Do Not Travel,” which is the most severe warning on State’s advisory scale. The department made it official later in the afternoon.

“The Department of State advises U.S. citizens to avoid all international travel due to the global impact of COVID-19,” the State Department said in a statement. “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 State Department also warned that U.S. citizens living abroad “should avoid all international travel.”

“Many countries are experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks and implementing travel restrictions and mandatory quarantines, closing borders, and prohibiting non-citizens from entry with little advance notice,” the State Department said. “Airlines have cancelled many international flights and several cruise operators have suspended operations or cancelled trips.”

The department added: “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.”

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The State Department, before the outbreak of COVID-19 around the globe, had reserved Level 4 for Libya, North Korea, Afghanistan, Somalia, Syria, Burkina Faso, South Sudan, Yemen, Venezuela, Central African Republic, Mali, Iran, Iraq and Haiti.

State also had designated parts of countries Level 4, like Sinaloa state in Mexico, due to cartel violence, or areas of southern and eastern Turkey due to terrorism and war.

The move comes after the department had implemented a global Level 3 advisory over the weekend, which warned Americans to reconsider traveling abroad.

Last week, the State Department authorized the departure of U.S. personnel and family members from any diplomatic or consular post in the world who "have determined they are at higher risk of a poor outcome if exposed to COVID-19 or who have requested departure based on a commensurate justification."

The department said Thursday that "these departures may limit the ability of U.S. Embassies and consulates to provide services to U.S. citizens."

The World Health Organization designated COVID-19 a global pandemic last week.

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Following that designation, President Trump announced a temporary halt on air travel to the United States from Europe, initially excluding flights from the United Kingdom and those carrying cargo, in an effort to contain the spread of the virus.

Trump then declared a national emergency over the outbreak and moved to ban travel from the U.K. as well.

This week, the president and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also agreed to largely close the U.S.-Canada border to curb the spread of the virus.

As of Thursday, the U.S. currently has 11,274 confirmed cases of coronavirus in all 50 states, including Washington, D.C. The U.S., so far, has seen 157 COVID-19-related deaths.

The Trump administration’s task force predicted Tuesday that the number of cases in the U.S. could peak in about 45 days.