The State Department is set to announce a Level 4 travel advisory, its most severe warning, applying to all international travel.
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.
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.
According to them, Republican Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has approved the advisory. The move would represent a step beyond the department’s current Level 3 travel warning, which merely encourages Americans to reconsider travel abroad. Thousands of U.S. citizens are already stuck in limbo abroad, and the new guidance threatens to create further anxiety and confusion among travelers.
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.
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.