US warns Americans against all overseas travel

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration has upgraded its already dire warning to Americans against all international travel as the coronavirus outbreak spreads.

The State Department on Thursday issued a new alert urging Americans not to travel abroad under any circumstances and to return home if they are already abroad unless they plan to remain overseas.

“The Department of State advises U.S. citizens to avoid all international travel due to the global impact of COVID-19,” it said in the new advice. “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.”

Until the upgrade, the department's advice to U.S. citizens was to “reconsider” all international travel under what is known as a “level three” alert. The global “level four” warning was unprecedented as such alerts are generally reserved for specific countries embroiled in conflict, natural disasters or where Americans face specific risks. 

RELATED: Take a look at coronavirus vaccines trials taking place in Seattle: 

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Coronavirus vaccine trial in Seattle
A pharmacist gives Jennifer Haller, left, the first shot in the first-stage safety study clinical trial of a potential vaccine for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, Monday, March 16, 2020, at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Jennifer Haller poses for a photo in the living room of her home, Monday, March 16, 2020, in Seattle. Earlier in the day, Haller was the first person to receive a shot of a potential vaccine for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, at the start of the first-stage safety study clinical trial of the vaccine at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Pharmacist Michael Witte opens a package taken from a freezer that contains the potential vaccine for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, on the first day of a first-stage safety study clinical trial of the vaccine, Monday, March 16, 2020, at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Pharmacist Michael Witte, left, gives Rebecca Sirull, right, a shot in the first-stage safety study clinical trial of a potential vaccine for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, Monday, March 16, 2020, at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle. Sirull is the third patient to receive the shot in the study. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Jennifer Haller is reflected in a mirror as she waits in an exam room before she was given a shot in the first-stage safety study clinical trial of a potential coronavirus vaccine, Monday, March 16, 2020, at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle. Haller was the first person to receive the shot in the study. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Pharmacist Michael Witte, left, gives Neal Browning, right, a shot in the first-stage safety study clinical trial of a potential vaccine for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus Monday, March 16, 2020, at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle. Browning is the second patient to receive the shot in the study. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
The first clinical trials to find a coronavirus vaccine have begun at a hospital in Seattle. A total of 45 men and women have volunteered to be injected. Unlike most vaccines, these COVID-19 vaccines have not been tested on mice, and will go directly to humans due to the urgent need for the drug. Lisa Guerrero spoke with Neal Browning, one of the men who is participating in the trial. He explained what he has to go through as part of this brave new experiment.
The first clinical trials to find a coronavirus vaccine have begun at a hospital in Seattle. A total of 45 men and women have volunteered to be injected. Unlike most vaccines, these COVID-19 vaccines have not been tested on mice, and will go directly to humans due to the urgent need for the drug. Lisa Guerrero spoke with Neal Browning, one of the men who is participating in the trial. He explained what he has to go through as part of this brave new experiment.
Pharmacist Michael Witte, left, gives Rebecca Sirull, right, a shot in the first-stage safety study clinical trial of a potential vaccine for the coronavirus, Monday, March 16, 2020, at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle. Sirull is the third patient to receive the shot in the study. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Dr. Lisa Jackson, a senior investigator at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute, poses for a photo, Sunday, March 15, 2020, in Seattle. Jackson is leading the first-stage safety study clinical trial of a potential vaccine for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, which was given to the first volunteer in the study by injection, Monday, March 16 in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Dr. Lisa Jackson, a senior investigator at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute, works in her office with an image of COVID-19 taped to her door, Sunday, March 15, 2020, in Seattle. Jackson is leading the first-stage safety study clinical trial of a potential vaccine for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, which was given to the first volunteer in the study by injection, Monday, March 16. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Rebecca Sirull, center, poses for a photo with her roommates, Anna Thomas, left, and Madeleine Busch, Monday, March 16, 2020, at the home they share in Seattle. Earlier in the day, Sirull was the third person to receive a shot of a potential vaccine for the COVID-19 coronavirus at the start of the first-stage safety study clinical trial of the vaccine at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Rebecca Sirull works on her laptop, Monday, March 16, 2020, at her home in Seattle. Earlier in the day, Sirull, an editorial coordinator for the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, was the third person to receive a shot of a potential vaccine for the COVID-19 coronavirus at the start of the first-stage safety study clinical trial of the vaccine at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
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However, the upgrade will likely have little practical effect because it is not mandatory and there are now limited transportation options for international travel. The only way to ban Americans from going abroad would be to invalidate the use of U.S. passports for such travel, a bar that is currently in place only for North Korea.

In addition, the main impact of State Department travel alerts is to cause insurance companies to increase premiums or cancel travel policies for group and individual tours, many of which had been scrapped even before the alert was raised to level three earlier this week.

The department has already advised Americans that many U.S. embassies and consulates abroad are operating with reduced staff and hours due to the COVID-19 outbreak and that services for Americans in need of assistance are limited.

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