More than 50,000 US citizens are stranded abroad because of the travel restrictions enforced due to the coronavirus pandemic. Ian Brownlee, head of the State Department’s repatriation task force, said they are working tirelessly to bring them back.

Our posts around the world have received requests for assistance for getting back to the United States from over 50,000 US citizens. And we’re committed to bringing home as many Americans as we possibly can,” said Brownlee in a press conference on Wednesday, March 25.

He added that since the outbreak began, the US government has brought more than 9,000 US citizens back home from more than 28 countries. By the end of next week, they expect to bring back a further 9,000 passengers through 66 flights.

However, it is becoming increasingly more challenging to arrange flights from abroad, considering the last-minute flight cancellations and travel restrictions as a result of the COVID-19.

This is fairly complex contractual work and in as much as this is a truly unprecedented event, the State Department’s capacity to do this is being strained,” Brownlee said, adding that they are working with the US Department of Defense to arrange military flights.

He responded to the stranded passengers’ frustrations (who think the government is acting too slow ) by explaining that they’re giving priority to the elderly and those with health problems. Those who are young and healthy may have to wait a bit longer to return home.

On March 17, the US shut down its borders to foreigners coming in from the EU, China, and other high-risk countries, trying to stop the further spread of the disease. Countries across the globe have enforced their own travel restrictions and entry bans, leaving travellers unable to return home due to cancelled flights.

See a map of worldwide travel restrictions as a result of the coronavirus.

The coronavirus infections in the US now outnumber those in China and Italy, with almost 86,000 reported cases as of March 27. US citizens have criticized their government’s approach to dealing with the disease, especially that of US President Donald Trump, who initially downplayed the severity of the outbreak.