State Department tells Americans not to travel abroad due to coronavirus

Key Points
  • The State Department warned U.S. citizens against traveling abroad, an unprecedented move.
  • The advisory, the highest of its kind, would instruct all Americans abroad to either return to the U.S. or prepare to shelter in place.
  • Airlines are scrambling to cut flights and other costs as travel demand plummets.
Passengers wear masks as they arrive at Dulles International airport in Dulles, Virginia on March 17, 2020.
Andrew Caballero Reynolds | AFP | Getty Images

WASHINGTON — The State Department on Thursday told Americans to avoid all international travel and that U.S. citizens abroad should return immediately because of the coronavirus pandemic, an unprecedented warning from the agency as the disease spreads.

The State Department's level 4 warning, the highest of its kind, comes as nations around the world are scrambling to stem the spread of the coronavirus, known as COVID-19. The disease has infected more than 236,000 worldwide, though many have recovered. In the U.S. 11,238 cases have been reported so far.

The agency warned Americans abroad to arrange for travel back to the U.S. right away "unless they are prepared to remain abroad for an indefinite period." It also told travelers that planned travel abroad "may be severely disrupted."

Airlines, reeling from the crisis, have slashed international flying already as the virus sapped both leisure and business travel demand. The Trump administration last week issued a 30-day on most visitors from Europe for 30-days, prompting airlines to further reduce their international service. Executives have said the impact of coronavirus is worse than the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Delta Air Lines on Wednesday said it would slash capacity by 70% network-wide, cuts that would continue "until demand starts to recover." The Atlanta-based carrier's international flights would take the biggest hit with an 80% drop, CEO Ed Bastian told employees.

"Making swift decisions now to reduce the losses and preserve cash will provide us the resources to rebound from the other side of this crisis and protect Delta's future," he said. 

Airlines are seeking more than $50 billion in government aid to weather the crisis, and CEOs have had talks with President Donald Trump, lawmakers and some administration officials.

Less than a week ago, the State Department upped the travel advisory to level three, which calls for U.S. citizens to reconsider travel.