US State Department issues 'level 4' warning against international travel
The State Department has issued a level 4 "do not travel" advisory on Thursday, encouraging U.S. citizens not to go abroad and to return home if they are currently traveling.
"The Department of State advises U.S. citizens to avoid all international travel due to the global impact of COVID-19," the Department said in the warning that was posted to its website Thursday afternoon.
"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. U.S. citizens who live abroad should avoid all international travel," the warning continued. "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. Airlines have cancelled many international flights and several cruise operators have suspended operations or cancelled trips. 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."
Politico first reported that the advisory was expected Thursday morning. It's unclear how long the new guidance will be in place.
Level 4 is the State Department's most severe travel warning, and is usually reserved to advise travelers against visiting active war zones. Politico reported that a number of current and former U.S. diplomats could not recall a global level 4 travel advisory ever previously being issued.
The State Department had previously issued a global level 3 warning, encouraging travelers to reconsider any trips abroad.
Even a level 4 advisory is nonbinding, but it underscores the serious risks posed by the coronavirus and highlights the quickly-changing nature of the global transportation network.
In recent days, a large number of airlines have abruptly scaled back services as demand for travel drops off and governments around the world impose new restrictions.
For travelers, that has led to a scramble to rebook flights and try to get back home before the air network contracts even further.
If you are trying to rebook (or get a new itinerary home), airlines are advising passengers that hold times on the phone are exceptionally long. Most are asking passengers to manage their itineraries online whenever possible. For those who need to call, most major carriers are requesting customers only do so if flight is set to depart in 72 hours or less.
The State Department also announced Thursday that it would curtail expedited passport application services, and advised that standard passport applications may take longer than 6-8 weeks.