Washington (AFP) - The United States warned Wednesday that it may soon not be able to repatriate additional citizens caught overseas in the coronavirus pandemic after bringing home more than 30,000.
"If you are on the beach when an earthquake strikes, you wouldn't just stand there waiting for the coming tsunami; you would head for higher ground immediately," senior State Department official Ian Brownlee said.
"Well, in this case, the earthquake has happened," he told reporters. "It's time to seek higher ground now, and not hope for a rescue later."
Brownlee said that the United States has brought home some 31,000 citizens from more than 60 countries, with the highest demand for evacuations from South Asia and Central and South America.
After arranging 350 flights, the United States has another 80 scheduled but has received word from another 24,000 Americans that they may seek repatriation.
"There's no guarantee the Department of State will be able to continue to provide repatriation assistance and transportation options from many countries to the US may become unavailable in the future, even in a few weeks' time," he said.
The State Department has warned citizens that they may be stranded indefinitely overseas unless they come home immediately as countries impose stringent entry restrictions and airlines drastically cut flights.
US officials have advised citizens to seek commercial flights when available but has been arranging air transport from countries where none are available.
Some 20 million US citizens lived overseas before the crisis, meaning that the vast majority have chosen to stay put.