Politico reports the State Department is set to announce a Level 4 travel advisory applying to all international travel, its most severe warning, three individuals with knowledge of the pending announcement said.
The advisory would instruct all Americans abroad to either return to the United States or prepare to shelter in place, given the global threat of the coronavirus outbreak. Americans also would be instructed not to travel abroad.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has approved the advisory, the individuals said. The move would represent a step beyond the department’s current Level 3 travel warning, which merely encourages Americans to reconsider travel abroad.
Two State Department officials confirmed the pending advisory. The State Department press office did not respond to requests to comment, but announced on Thursday that U.S. passport agencies will only accept applications from customers with life-or-death emergencies who plan to travel within 72 hours.
Several current and former U.S. diplomats, some of them with several decades of experience, said they do not recall such a travel advisory ever being issued in the past.
The highly unusual guidance is set to come after seven weeks of steadily increasing restrictions on U.S. travel, following President Donald Trump’s move to limit travel from China at the end of January. Other countries have closed their borders and imposed further travel restrictions as the virus has spread beyond Asia to Europe and the Western Hemisphere.
There are more than 10,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States, across all 50 states and Washington, D.C. The World Health Organization on Thursday said that there are more than 191,000 confirmed cases across more than 150 countries; an unofficial tally by researchers at Johns Hopkins University pegs that number still higher.
A State Department official based overseas expressed concern about the pending advisory, saying he worried it would cause panic among Americans. The official pointed out the difficulties of finding flights under the current conditions.
Hundreds or maybe thousands of Americans remain stranded abroad, caught between travel bans and massive airline flight cancellations. Some Americans are stranded in countries like Guatemala, which has issued a ban on any flights coming or going, and others are having to pay dearly for what flights are left, often transiting through several countries before finding a way back home.