The US State Department has repatriated more than 15,000 Americans who had been stuck abroad due to coronavirus but is still tracking tens of thousands more who may need assistance.
As of Friday afternoon, the agency had dispatched more than 150 flights to more than 40 countries to retrieve the travelers, many of whom were left without other means of departure due to flight restrictions and border closures caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Ian Brownlee, the head of the State Department’s repatriation task force, told reporters Friday that they were tracking at least 64 additional flights over the next week and that they had identified about 9,000 passengers to take these flights.
However, the department is still tracking some 33,000 Americans who might seek their assistance, according to Brownlee. That number is a drop from the 50,000 the department was tracking just days ago – an elevated figure that Brownlee says was due in part to human error. He also said travelers “have decided they’re just going to wait it out, wait out the curfew or wait out the quarantine where they are.”
There have been other obstacles for Americans abroad seeking a way home. Some travelers told CNN they struggled to get clear guidance from US embassies about next steps. Others in remote areas expressed concerns about their ability to get to the airport for flights back to the US, particularly as countries have imposed sharp restrictions on travel. For others, the cost of a charter flight back seemed prohibitive.
A group of more than a dozen Americans in Peru – a country where thousands of stranded US travelers remain – are unable to leave their hostel in Cusco due to a Covid-19-imposed quarantine. Several of the American travelers told CNN that there were two confirmed cases of coronavirus among the guests at the hostel.
One of those Americans, Richard Perks, told CNN that although the hostel has taken good care of them, he is concerned about the spread of the virus, particularly because one of his friends has asthma.
“My friends and I would rather quarantine outside of the hostel for 14 days, then know that we are guaranteed a date that we can get home. As of right now, there is no end date on sight,” Perks told CNN. “The other people in this hostel are not following the social distancing rules, and I’m afraid the quarantine will be extended indefinitely.”
He said the Peruvian military had blockaded the street and “we have been threatened with arrest and imprisonment up to 10 years if we try to leave the hostel.”
Correction: As of Friday, 12 flights and more than 1,200 travelers had left Peru, according to the State Department. However, Brownlee acknowledged that flights leaving Peru were not filled nearly to capacity. He said that until Friday they "did not have approval from the Peruvians on a timely basis," so "we were getting in touch with people and saying, 'Hey, we have a plane tomorrow, can get to the airport' and people just weren't able to get to the airport on time."
This story has been corrected to accurately spell Richard Perks name.