The U.S. Department of State has issued a Global Level 4 Health Advisory, advising Americans to "avoid all international travel due to the global impact of COVID-19."
"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," according to the advisory. "U.S. citizens who live abroad should avoid all international travel."
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The new health advisory follows stories of Americans who have found themselves in international travel limbo in wake of the pandemic, unable to return to the United States after the countries in which they are currently located closed their borders.
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Earlier in March, President Trump enacted travel restrictions between the United States and certain countries Europe.
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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.
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.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.This story was reported from Los Angeles.