Although airlines have been cutting their traffic by as much as 80 percent due to the shattering of demand caused by the coronavirus, Americans have not been fully discouraged by the government from traveling abroad. But on Thursday, the State Department issued a Level 4 travel advisory — its most severe warning — for all international travel. State warns that any Americans that do not return immediately should be “prepared to remain abroad for an indefinite period.”
Prior to the announcement, a Level 3 warning was in place for all international travel, in which the government suggested that Americans reconsider going abroad; Level 4 had been implemented for countries with significant outbreaks, including Italy, Iran, and China. (Under normal circumstances, the “do not travel” warning is reserved for countries at-war or with mass disease outbreaks.) Though the high warning does not legally bar Americans from international travel, the U.S. advises travelers that “during an emergency, the U.S. government may have very limited ability to provide assistance.” A blanket Level 4 action is unprecedented, according to diplomats who spoke with Politico.
When Americans rushed back from Europe before Trump’s poorly executed, not-quote-continent-wide travel ban, embassies were reportedly of little help. On Wednesday, Senator Bob Menendez, ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wrote a letter to State asking Mike Pompeo to do more to aid Americans seeking to return home. But State isn’t the only agency creating challenges for those returning: Last weekend, as travelers from Europe hit U.S. airports, waits to clear Customs reached up to seven hours, as passengers were held in crowded waiting areas and potentially exposed to coronavirus patients.
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