State Department says it's retrieved over 18,000 US citizens stranded abroad amid coronavirus pandemic

The US State Department has repatriated more than 18,000 Americans who had been stuck abroad amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Posted: Mar 29, 2020 1:33 PM

(CNN) -- The US State Department has repatriated more than 18,000 Americans who had been stuck abroad amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

As of Saturday afternoon, the agency reported it had retrieved 18,406 US citizens aboard more than 178 flights. The announcement, which the agency detailed on its website, comes after State Department officials said Friday that about 33,000 Americans were still seeking assistance from the US government to get home. The department said it had planned more than 60 repatriation flights for this week and that it would add more as needed.

The repatriation flights on Saturday included three flights to the US from Peru. The Peruvian government has extended its nationwide quarantine to April 12.

A group of 14 Americans remain at a hostel in Cusco, Peru, where they have been told they must quarantine because some of the guests there tested positive for Covid-19. They were given a notice that the quarantine could last one to three months.

One of those Americans, Richard Perks, told CNN that "as of right now, there is no end date on sight."

"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 US Embassy in Lima addressed stranded US citizens in a tweet, saying, "We understand that in some places hotels or local authorities are not letting U.S. citizens leave for their flights due to the quarantine. We are aware of this issue and working to resolve it."

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted Sunday morning that "our team won't stop until we get all #AmericansHome who wish to return," while also thanking the Peruvian military for its "assistance to Americans in remote parts of the country."

Some 2,324 Americans have also been repatriated from Guatemala -- the country from which the highest number of Americans have been retrieved.

Citizens and their families stuck abroad previously told CNN they have struggled to get clear answers from the the State Department -- the agency tasked with protecting their health and well-being overseas.

Asked by CNN what message they want to send frightened Americans overseas trying to get home, State officials have essentially said "get out while you can" -- a foregone option for many stuck in countries where borders suddenly closed and flights were canceled.

"If you are a US citizen, and you are abroad at the moment, take a look at your circumstances, determine whether this is a place where you'd be willing to hunker down for an indeterminate period of time, as airspace and borders, etc., close down," a senior official said.

"If you are somewhere where you think, 'No, this is not where I would want to be over the long haul,' take advantage of existing commercial opportunities and get out now," they said.

The official said they were "hesitant to give a guarantee" that they would be able to move every single person, noting "we're hearing about people who are in very remote locations in very remote parts of the world."

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