WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. State Department said on Wednesday it was tracking 50,000 Americans abroad it said might seek help to return to the United States, straining the department’s resources as it seeks to arrange travel around the spread of the coronavirus.
The number increased from an estimate of 13,500 on Monday. Ian Brownlee, the head of the State Department’s repatriation task force, said it had brought back over 9,000 U.S. citizens from 28 countries.
Another 9,000 are set to return on 66 flights over the next nine days, he added.
“Inasmuch as this is a truly unprecedented event, the State Department’s capacity to do this is being strained. We’re talking to the Department of Defense as to whether they can potentially help us out in lining up aircraft,” Brownlee said.
There were 435,000 coronavirus cases worldwide, according to a Reuters tally on Wednesday.
Fifty-eight State Department employees overseas have tested positive for the sometimes fatal respiratory illness, while 16 across five cities in the United States have tested positive, said William Walters, managing director for operational medicine in the department’s Bureau of Medical Services.
(Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis; Editing by Mary Milliken and Peter Cooney)