US Mission Saudi Arabia Now on Voluntary Evacuation After COVID-19 Cases Leaked #HoldOn

On Monday,  June 29, 2020, the State Department issued an updated Travel Advisory for Saudi Arabia announcing that on Wednesday, June 24, it authorized the voluntary evacuation of nonemergency personnel and family members from the US Mission in Saudi Arabia. This includes Embassy Riyadh, and the consulates general in Jeddah and Dhahran. The order was issued “due to current conditions in Saudi Arabia associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.”

On June 24, 2020, the Department of State authorized the departure of non-emergency U.S. personnel and family members from the U.S. Mission to Saudi Arabia, which is comprised of the Embassy in Riyadh and the Consulates General in Jeddah and Dhahran, due to current conditions in Saudi Arabia associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Apparently, dozens of mission employees got sick last month, and many more were quarantined. A third country national working as a driver for the mission’s top diplomats had reportedly died. The Embassy’s Emergency Action Committee “approved the departure for high risk individuals” but the State Department “denied” the request advising post  “to do whatever it can to hold on until the Covid problem improves.”
Whatthewhat? Hold on is the plan?
Also that “more recently, officials on the embassy’s emergency action committee recommended to Mr. Abizaid that most American employees should be ordered to evacuate, with only emergency personnel staying. Mr. Abizaid has not acted on that.”
Reminds us of what happened at some posts back in March (Is @StateDept Actively Discouraging US Embassies From Requesting Mandatory Evacuations For Staff? #CentralAsia? #Worldwide?). COVID-19 Pandemic Howler: “No one in DC, to include S, gives AF about AF”.  More recently, reports of COVID-19 cases at US Embassy Kabul (US Embassy Kabul: As Many as 20 People Infected With COVID-19 (Via AP).  Where else?

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Foreign Service Posts Evacuation Tracker: Authorized and Ordered Departures, Post Closures (as of 4/15/20)

Updated/1:35 pm PDT

Authorized departure is an evacuation procedure, short of ordered departure, by which post employees and/or eligible family members are permitted to leave post in advance of normal rotation when U.S. national interests or imminent threat to life requires it. Authorized departure is voluntary, requested by the chief of mission (COM) and approved by the Under Secretary for Management (M). The incumbent to this office is Brian Bulatao.
Ordered departure is an evacuation procedure by which the number of U.S. government employees, eligible family members, or both, at a Foreign Service post is reduced. Ordered departure is mandatory and may be initiated by the chief of mission or the Secretary of State
Posts with very few exceptions, report to their regional or geographic bureaus headed respectively by an Assistant Secretary, a Senate confirmed position. Four of the seven regional bureaus at State are headed by officials in their acting capacity (EUR, SCA, WHA, IO).  
We’ve heard from one post in Africa where COM was apparently told by a senior State Department official that non-emergency personnel should leave with the authorized departure flight or be involuntarily curtailed from post.
Can you still  call a voluntary evacuation voluntary if non-emergency personnel are under threat of curtailments if they don’t go? Is this unique to this one post or is the arm twisting more widespread within AF posts or other bureaus.
Another post in Africa told us that its COM has raised the possibility of involuntary curtailment if folks don’t want to depart on AD but that this was COM’s idea not Washington’s. One source explained that  from a post perspective, you do not want to go on OD because  “you lose control.”  This is probably a limited perspective based on the circumstances of specific posts. Or is it?
What about from the mothership’s perspective? To OD post or not to OD? Why, or why not?
We were told that the “challenge” with “ordered departures” is that Washington is “involved in micromanaging” the termination of the OD but also with the staffing/movement of personnel. Every time post permits anyone to return to post for any reason, the mothership has to review it. Our source told us that the amount of time to review every tweak and revision of staffing would probably be considerable even if just half the posts worldwide are on OD.
We note that per 3 FAM 3774 “official travel to a post or country where an authorized or ordered departure is in effect is prohibited without the formal approval of the Under Secretary for Management (M) following approval of a post policy that clearly describes appropriate restrictions and limits exceptions, in accordance with the procedures described under Waivers of Travel Prohibitions (3 FAM 3776).” Excerpt:

b. In limited circumstances, M may delegate to the COM the authority to approve travel to and from a post under authorized departure (including travel related to rest and recuperation (R&R), home leave, annual leave, etc.) for permanently assigned employees, family members, and MOHs who do not elect authorized departure status.  M also may delegate to the COM, in limited circumstances, the authority to approve travel to post for employees who were away from post when ordered departure was approved.

c.  In situations in which the Under Secretary for Management (M) has not delegated authority to the COM, waiver requests will be forwarded to the regional bureau executive director for review and a recommendation for approval or denial.  If approved in principle by the regional bureau, the request will be forwarded to the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) for clearance and returned to the regional bureau executive director for submission to M.  To provide time for the review and approval/denial process, travelers must allow a minimum of 20 working days following submission of requests to the Department for all but the most urgent medical or casualty-related travel.  Given changing conditions in these locations, requests should not be submitted to the Department more than 35 days prior to the proposed departure date.

d. For posts where operations have been suspended or countries where the United States is engaged in contingency operations: Requests for a waiver of the prohibition on official and personal travel to a post or country where operations have been suspended or countries where the United States is engaged in contingency operations must be approved by the Under Secretary for Management, who may waive the prohibition in unusual or compelling circumstances.  The request must be made initially to the regional bureau executive director for review and a recommendation for approval or denial.  If approved in principle by the regional bureau, the request will be forwarded to the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) for clearance and returned to the regional bureau executive director for submission to M.  To provide time for the review and approval/denial process, travelers must allow a minimum of 20 working days following submission of requests to the Department for all but the most urgent medical or casualty-related travel.  Given changing conditions in these locations, requests should not be submitted to the Department more than 35 days prior to the proposed departure date.  Approvals for such travel can be revoked at any time by M and M can impose conditions on the traveler’s length of stay, whereabouts, and/or activities in country.  The traveler must explain in detail where he/she will reside during his/her stay; unless approved by the Under Secretary for Management, no employee, family member, or member of household may reside in State Department leased or owned facilities while operations are suspended.

Anyhow, if you have further thoughts on this, drop us a line. Below is a revised evacuation tracker, no additional AD/OD posts since March 28 but we’ve now added the two post closures, the Consulates General in Wuhan and Vladivostok. Note updated date of post closure for Wuhan.  We could not locate an announcement of post closure except as part of an update on the China Travel Advisory dated February 19, which may not be the actual date when USCG Wuhan was officially closed.
Also, please note that the term “non-essential” personnel has been generally replaced with the term “non-emergency” personnel. However, we still occasionally see this term used in official releases from overseas posts. Also as late as 2018, the Foreign Affairs Manual in its danger pay section still makes references to “non-essential” personnel.

Post of the Month: In a Time of Pandemic, a U.S. Embassy Launches a Witch Hunt

“Your previous article has really stirred things up …. a lot of retaliation against who people think might have written you…which is now a large group of suspects…”

Related posts:

Is @StateDept Actively Discouraging US Embassies From Requesting Mandatory Evacuations For Staff? #CentralAsia? #Worldwide? March 23, 2020

Evacuation Tracker: U.S. Foreign Service Posts (Updated March 24, 2020)

SSDO Special Briefing, March 24, 2020

“In an unprecedented move, the department has authorized departure from post for all employees abroad who are considered to be especially medically vulnerable to the consequences of COVID-19.  To date, we’ve also granted ordered departure and authorized voluntary departure to 17 posts and will continue to assess the need to grant more as time progresses. “

QUESTION:  [… ] And then secondly, I’m sure you’ve seen these reports that there are numerous embassies, or at least several embassies, where people are basically clamoring for order departure status, and that they are being discouraged from that.  Can you address that?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Oh, no.  All help is appreciated.  On the second part of your question, Matt, so our embassies overseas have their emergency teams meet regularly to discuss the situation at post, and they have a process and procedure in place where they can really evaluate the transportation system, the healthcare system, and not just the status of COVID in the country.  And when they reach a certain point where they feel like, okay, maybe time to request authorized ordered departure, they submit a request to the undersecretary of management, and those are coming in regularly, and the undersecretary reviews them and then makes decisions on what to approve.  At this point, I think one of the biggest issues is the travel restrictions that countries are instituting around the world.

MODERATOR ONE:  If I could just add on to that, those decisions are made against a robust set of criteria and decisions made based to – based on a consistent set of principles, all which are geared towards maximizing the safety for our employees.

Senior State Department Official Special Briefing, March 23, 2020

QUESTION:  And do you have numbers on authorized departures and ordered departures?  How many people have taken you up on it so far?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE:  We’ll have to take that question and get back to you.  I don’t have those numbers at my fingertips.  I apologize.

Related post:
March 23, 2020: U.S. Foreign Service Posts: Tracking Voluntary Departures and Mandatory Evacuations

Is @StateDept Actively Discouraging US Embassies From Requesting Mandatory Evacuations For Staff? #CentralAsia? #Worldwide?

Updated: March 24, 12:54 am PDT

Updated: March 24, 2020 10:47 pm PDT

Updated March 26, 12:07 am PDT

SSDO Special Briefing, March 24, 2020

QUESTION:  [… ] And then secondly, I’m sure you’ve seen these reports that there are numerous embassies, or at least several embassies, where people are basically clamoring for order departure status, and that they are being discouraged from that.  Can you address that?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Oh, no.  All help is appreciated.  On the second part of your question, Matt, so our embassies overseas have their emergency teams meet regularly to discuss the situation at post, and they have a process and procedure in place where they can really evaluate the transportation system, the healthcare system, and not just the status of COVID in the country.  And when they reach a certain point where they feel like, okay, maybe time to request authorized ordered departure, they submit a request to the undersecretary of management, and those are coming in regularly, and the undersecretary reviews them and then makes decisions on what to approve.  At this point, I think one of the biggest issues is the travel restrictions that countries are instituting around the world.

MODERATOR ONE:  If I could just add on to that, those decisions are made against a robust set of criteria and decisions made based to – based on a consistent set of principles, all which are geared towards maximizing the safety for our employees.

On March 19, we received an email from a post in Central Asia with the subject line: “Abandoned in Central Asia.” We learned that “after weeks of internal debate with Main State” authorized (voluntary) departure was finally approved for their Embassy on March 17. Apparently, last week, the Embassy’s Emergency Action Committee (EAC) also agreed that it was time to go OD”, that is, go on ordered departure, a mandatory evacuation from post except for emergency staffers. Note that the OD was not for suspension of operations.

Ordered Departures: Talking Ambassadors “out of it”

Sender A said that the Embassy’s EAC recommended “OD on Wednesday (March 18)” and then something happened. The South Central Asia (SCA) top bureau official reportedly “talked the AMB out of it.”  As to the rationale for this development, we were told that embassy employees were not informed. 
“We just know that on Sunday [March 15] EACs at two posts said they wanted OD” and by Monday, March 16, the respective chiefs of mission “had refused based on input” from the top bureau official, according to Sender A. 
So curious minds would like to know if these OD requests have actually been refused or if ambassadors were under pressure not to formally request it so the bureau will not have to refuse it in writing? Anyone know?
The frustrated employee writes: U.S. diplomats are now stuck in countries where U.S. citizens are specifically advised not to use local medical facilities and the Embassies only have small medical units for minor issues. Even if they’re needed, there are zero local hospital beds available. Best case, it sounds like multiple OIG complaints waiting to happen. But when did the administration’s image at home become more important than people’s lives? How much Swagger will SecState have when his people start dying?”

A Snapshot on Medical Facilities

We thought we’d checked the information on medical facilities for several countries in the region. For example, Turkmenistan is a Level 3 Reconsider Travel country. The State Department’s Travel Advisory says:
Medical protocols in Turkmenistan are not consistent with U.S. standards and some travelers have been required to undergo medical testing unrelated to COVID-19 including but not limited to HIV testing.  Consider declining any medical procedures including testing unrelated to COVID-19. Due to the possibility of quarantine of unknown length, carry additional supplies of necessary medication in carry-on luggage.”
According to Diplomatic Security’s 2020 Crime and Safety Report on Uzbekistan:
The country’s “health care system is not adequate to meet the needs of many serious emergencies. There is a lack of basic supplies and limited modern equipment. Emergency medicine is very basic. Some medication sold in local pharmacies may be counterfeit. Elderly travelers and those with pre-existing health problems may be at particular risk due to inadequate medical facilities. Most resident U.S. citizens travel to North America or Western Europe for their medical needs.”
Tajikistan’s “inadequate public healthcare infrastructure has given rise to private medical facilities offering varying degrees of quality care in some specialties. Also:
“Medical first responders (ambulance crews) do not meet Western standards, and are not widely available, likely poorly equipped, and often poorly trained.”
On Kyrgyzstan: Medical care is often inadequate in the country.
 “There is a shortage of basic medical supplies. Health care resources are limited and often below U.S. standards. Doctors and medical industry staff rarely speak English, and prices for treatment are not fixed. Use a translator or Russian/Kyrgyz speaking friend or family member to assist with medical treatment. U.S. citizens often travel outside of Kyrgyzstan for medical treatment, including most routine procedures.”
In Kazakhstan, medical care options are limited and well below U.S. standards.
“U.S. citizens often depart Kazakhstan for medical treatment, including many routine procedures. Serious long-term care is not a viable option in Nur-Sultan.”

An Ambassador’s Town Hall Meeting

Last Friday, a U.S. Ambassador at a post in South Central Asia held a town hall for embassy employees; held outdoors on the steps of the Embassy, we were told. 
The U.S. Ambassador, citing what he was told by the top SCA bureau official, informed embassy employees the following (provided to us in direct quotes by Sender A):
  • “Ambassador, you need to understand the United States is the red zone, it is not the safe haven that you think it is.”
  • “The U.S. has the highest number of COVID-19 cases per capita in the world.”
  • “It has not peaked in the United States, incidents are rising rapidly, it is out of control.”
  • “The ability to get a test for COVID-19 even with symptoms or comorbidities is extremely difficult.”
  • “The healthcare infrastructure of the United States is not capable of helping.”
This ambassador reportedly further told embassy employees that “500,000 Americans are overseas seeking assistance for getting home.” And that “We are taking down the American economy to fight this enemy.”

(March 25 Special Briefing with CA PDAS Ian Brownlee: “Our posts around the world have received requests for assistance with getting back to the United States from over 50,000 U.S. citizens and we’re committed to bring home as many Americans as we possibly can.”  Wowow!

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U.S. Foreign Service Posts: Tracking Voluntary Departures and Mandatory Evacuations

10:05 PDT Updated with dates of WHO declarations

We created a tracker for Foreign Service posts on authorized (voluntary) departures and posts on mandatory (ordered) departures. The information below is based on data available on travel.state.gov’s public advisories ; we only searched the advisories going back to the beginning of 2020 as these are the ones issued related to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Based on CDC’s MMWR report dated February 5, 2020, an outbreak of acute respiratory illness caused by a novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) was detected in Wuhan, China in December 2019.
On January 23, 2020, the Department of State ordered the departure of all non-emergency U.S. personnel and their family members from USCG Wuhan.
On January 30, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern.”
On January 31, the Department ordered the departure of all family members under age 21 of U.S. personnel in China.
February was relatively quiet with two voluntary departure orders for the Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macau.
On March 11, the WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic.
On March 12, the Department ordered the departure of all nonessential personnel from Mongolia to travel, transport, and other restrictions related to Mongolia’s response to the ongoing outbreak of COVID-19.
On March 14, the Department of State authorized the departure of U.S. personnel and family members from any diplomatic or consular post in the world “who have determined they are at higher risk of a poor outcome if exposed to COVID-19 or who have requested departure based on a commensurate justification.” Click here for reference.
According to our count, there are currently seven (7) posts on ordered, mandatory evacuation for non-emergency personnel and family members/or family members under 21: these are all six posts in China plus Ulaanbatar;  eight (8) posts if US Embassy Bangui turns out to be on “ordered departure” status. If we’ve missed any post on OD or AD, please feel free to let us know and we’ll update the list.
Note that the Crisis Management Training office at the Foreign Service Institute (FSI/LMS/CMT) has a list of posts on evacuation status that may be available to employees. That list is not publicly available as far as we know.
Below is the State Department’s geographic bureaus for reference:

 

COVID-19 Pandemic Howler: “No one in DC, to include S, gives AF about AF”

Update 1:14 PDT: US Embassy Pretoria’s meltdown (see below)

We’ve explained previously about evacuations in the State Department’s Foreign Service posts (see New Travel Advisories and Voluntary/Mandatory Departures: Micronesia (L3), Tajikistan (L3), Mongolia (L4)).
Authorized departure is an evacuation procedure, short of ordered departure, by which post employees and/or eligible family members are permitted to leave post in advance of normal rotation when U.S. national interests or imminent threat to life requires it. Departure is requested by the chief of mission (COM) and approved by the Under Secretary for Management (M). The incumbent to this office is Brian Bulatao.
Ordered departure is an evacuation procedure by which the number of U.S. government employees, eligible family members, or both, at a Foreign Service post is reduced. Ordered departure is mandatory and may be initiated by the chief of mission or the Secretary of State. Posts with very few exceptions, report to their regional or geographic bureaus headed respectively by an Assistant Secretary, a Senate confirmed position.
As we’ve watched this pandemic unfold at home, we’ve also watched the State Department’s troubling response to it, particularly at overseas posts and in its public communication.
Update: On March 20, US Ambassador to South Africa Lana Marks reportedly held a “town hall” meeting for staff members “after mounting complaints from employees that she had refused to self-quarantine or take other protective measures, according to accounts of the meeting provided to The Washington Post by people familiar with it.” She apparently “attended a dinner at President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club with Brazilian officials who later tested positive for the novel coronavirus. But she told her State Department employees she did not consider herself at risk because the dinner was outside and she believed the virus could not withstand the Florida heat.” A second hand source with extensive sources told us “Embassy Pretoria is in meltdown.”
Recently, we heard about Post 1 in Africa that just went into ordered departure. We understand that employees were hoping to get on to what is being called “the last Air France flight.” We were told that what happens if/after they arrive in Paris is “unknown.”  
Then we received a howler from Post 2 in Africa:  They’ve shut the airport here. And closed the borders in [XXX]. No one gives AF about AF. Authorized Departure, yes. But flights were full or cancelled so that didn’t leave much room for options. No one in DC, to include S, gives AF about AF.”
We understand that this particular post was given the option to evacuate but “there’s no consensus” from the AF bureau if they’re going to authorize “ordered departure.” Post has sent a request but no response from D.C. — “they’re dragging their feet.”
Source from Post 2 says that they were given a 24-hour window for voluntary departure but then the border to [the neighboring country] had closed as well, and that also cuts off supplies for their host country.
“And as you know, people get crazy if they can’t get food or supplies.”
Source from Post 2 further writes “I don’t know how many more EACs and thresholds they want to cross before they say you’re on OD [ordered departure]. And – we are on staggered shifts so teleworking and not really getting anything done.”
Post 2 also says that “A lot of us are worried because of the optics on a lot of the confirmed cases on the continent – they’re all foreigners.” That’s a real worry given what’s happening in Ethiopia and Cameroon. 
On March 18, the US Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia issued a Security Alert on Reports of Anti-Foreigner Sentiment:
The Embassy continues to receive reports regarding a rise in anti-foreigner sentiment revolving around the announcement of COVID-19 in Ethiopia. Typical derogatory comments directed at foreigners, the terms “China” and “Ferengi” (foreigner), have been reportedly coupled with the label “Corona,” indicating a disparaging view on the link between the outbreak of COVID-19 and foreigners in Ethiopia. Incidents of harassment and assault directly related to COVID-19 have been reported by other foreigners living within Addis Ababa and other cities throughout the country. Reports indicate that foreigners have been attacked with stones, denied transportation services (taxis, Ride, etc.), being spat on, chased on foot, and been accused of being infected with COVID-19.”
On March 19, the US Embassy in Cameroon issued a similar Security Alert:
The Embassy has received reports regarding a rise of anti-foreigner sentiment revolving around the announcement of the spread of COVID-19.  Incidents of harassment and assault directly related to COVID-19 have been reported by U.S. citizens and other foreigners in both Yaounde and Douala.  Reports include verbal and online harassment, stone throwing, and banging on vehicles occupied by expatriates.
During the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the attack on one of the Ebola Treatment Centers in February 2019 was preceded by a change in public behavior toward the Medicins sans Frontiers (MSF) team. “On February 17, residents began shouting “Ebola, Ebola, Ebola” at the MSF team. Simultaneously, there was a marked drop in suspected cases referred to the ETC. The ETC had been receiving 35 to 40 suspected Ebola cases a week. However, on the day before the attack, only 1 suspected Ebola case was referred, and on the day of the attack, only 2. Rumors about foreigners experimenting on locals, taking organs, and filling the bodies with concrete and Ebola being a fabrication were also circulating.”
Our Post 2 source says that We knew what we signed up for. This is an unprecedented time. But borders and airports closing is a bit of a game changer in these high threat posts. It would be wonderful to know there’s some sort of exit strategy. And there isn’t one when they shut down the borders and airports.”
For now other worries include the civil unrest that may occur if food and supplies are stopped; not having plans in place for medical evacuation if/when it becomes necessary; the fact that these places are austere in medical facilities to take care of their own people let alone handling a car accident or malaria; that the guards are wonderful and in place, but you know, for how long?
There are worst case scenarios that we’re not going to spell out here but we’re sure the AF bureau and all posts in Africa are aware of them. It can’t be that no one has thought about what to do with posts in Africa during a pandemic.
Is there a pandemic plan for FS posts somewhere in Foggy Bottom’s vaults? What are their plans for post operations, repatriation of employees/family members, protection of local employees, or continuity of operations during/after a pandemic. Have they simply brushed off the shelf the Bush Administration’s old ‘stay remain in country/shelter in place’ policy during a pandemic without telling anyone?

New Travel Advisories and Voluntary/Mandatory Departures: Micronesia (L3), Tajikistan (L3), Mongolia (L4)

 

On March 18, the State Department issued new Level 3 Reconsider Travel Advisories for Micronesia and Tajikistan, and a Level 4 Travel Advisory for Mongolia. It also announced the voluntary departure order for two posts for non-emergency staffers and family members and a mandatory departure order for one post for  all non-essential personnel. Voluntary or “authorized departure” means employees and family members have the option to remain at post. An “ordered departure” is a mandatory order to leave post (see more below).
On March 11, 2020, the Department of State allowed for the voluntary departure of non-emergency U.S. Government employees and all eligible family members from US Embassy Kolonia, in Micronesia “due to stringent travel restrictions that affect commercial flights.”
On March 12, the Department ordered the departure of all nonessential personnel from U.S. Embassy Ulaanbaatar  “due to travel, transport, and other restrictions related to Mongolia’s response to the ongoing outbreak of COVID-19.”
On March 13, 2020, the State Department allowed for the voluntary departure of non-emergency personnel and family members of U.S. government employees from US Embassy Dushanbe due to “declining commercial flight availability and travel screening procedures implemented by the Government of Tajikistan.”
Micronesia Travel Advisory – Level 3 Reconsider Travel (March 18, 2020)

Reconsider Travel to the Federated States of Micronesia due to the Global Health Advisory and Embassy Kolonia’s limited capacity to provide support to U.S. citizens.

On March 11, 2020, the Department of State allowed for the voluntary departure of non-emergency U.S. Government employees and all eligible family members due to stringent travel restrictions that affect commercial flights.

As of March 18, 2020, there are no confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), but the country’s health system has limited capacity for handling an outbreak.  A recent reduction in commercial flights and difficulty in arranging medevac flights may make it difficult or impossible to seek medical evacuation.  Travelers should consider these factors and their health before traveling to the FSM and follow the Centers for Disease Control’s guidelines for the prevention of coronavirus if they decide to travel.

Mongolia Travel Advisory: Level 4: Do Not Travel (March 18, 2020)

Do Not Travel to Mongolia due to the Global Health Advisory and Mongolia’s suspension of all international travel in response to the ongoing outbreak of COVID-19 in neighboring countries.

On March 10, 2020, Mongolia suspended travel to and from foreign locations until at least March 28. Virtually all commercial flights, passenger rail, and auto traffic into and out of Mongolia are suspended during this time period. Domestic air and rail travel will also be suspended from March 10 until at least March 16. For the most up-to-date information regarding COVID-19-related issues affecting travelers in Mongolia please see the U.S Embassy in Mongolia’s COVID-19 Information page.

On February 25, 2020, the Department of State allowed for the voluntary departure of non-emergency U.S. government employees and all family members. On March 12, the Department ordered the departure of all nonessential personnel due to travel, transport, and other restrictions related to Mongolia’s response to the ongoing outbreak of COVID-19.

Tajikistan Travel Advisory – Level 3: Reconsider Travel (March 18, 2020)

Reconsider travel to Tajikistan due to the Global Health Advisory and measures implemented by the Government of Tajikistan in response to COVID-19.

On March 13, 2020, the State Department allowed for the voluntary departure of non-emergency personnel and family members of U.S. government employees due to declining commercial flight availability and travel screening procedures implemented by the Government of Tajikistan.

Travelers should be prepared for travel restrictions to be put into effect with little or no advance notice. Visit the U.S. Embassy Dushanbe website for additional information on these new measures.

Medical protocols in Tajikistan are not consistent with U.S. standards.  Consider declining any medical testing unrelated to COVID-19.

Due to the possibility of quarantine of unknown length, carry additional supplies of necessary medication in carry-on luggage.  Contact the U.S. Embassy if you are subject to quarantine or prior to undergoing any invasive medical testing or procedures.

Meanwhile we got a question in our inbox about Lebanon (a Level 3 Reconsider Travel country per Lebanon Travel Advisory issued on October 21, 2019):
“Beirut airport just closed and that means no way out due to geography.  Why are they not on OD? Who is in charge at State?”
Per 3 FAM 3770, “authorized departure” is an evacuation procedure, short of ordered departure, by which post employees and/or eligible family members are permitted to leave post in advance of normal rotation when U.S. national interests or imminent threat to life requires it. Departure is requested by the chief of mission (COM) and approved by the Under Secretary for Management (M).
An “ordered departure” is  an evacuation procedure by which the number of U.S. government employees, eligible family members, or both, at a Foreign Service post is reduced. Ordered departure is mandatory and may be initiated by the chief of mission or the Secretary of State.

@StateDept Issues Global “Authorized Departure” For Certain USG Personnel and Family Members

Updated: March 15, 8:26 pm PDT:

On March 15, 2020, the State Department issued an updated Global Level 3 Health Advisory: Reconsider Travel. It also announced that the day before it authorized “the departure from any diplomatic or consular post in the world of US personnel and family members who have been medically determined to be at higher risk of a poor outcome if exposed to COVID-19.” So the “authorized departure” or voluntary evacuation depends on the determination of the local MED unit or based on current medical clearance?
Excerpt below:

The Department of State advises U.S. citizens to reconsider travel abroad due to the global impact of COVID-19. Many areas throughout the world are now experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks and taking action that may limit traveler mobility, including quarantines and border restrictions. Even countries, jurisdictions, or areas where cases have not been reported may restrict travel without notice.   

On March 14, the Department of State authorized the departure from any diplomatic or consular post in the world of US personnel and family members who have been medically determined to be at higher risk of a poor outcome if exposed to COVID-19.

For the latest information regarding COVID-19, please visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) website.

Keeping workplaces, homes, schools, or commercial establishments safe.

You are encouraged to visit travel.state.gov to view individual Travel Advisories for the most urgent threats to safety and security. Please also visit the website of the relevant U.S. embassy or consulate to see information on entry restrictions, foreign quarantine policies, and urgent health information provided by local governments.

Travelers are urged to enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive Alerts and make it easier to locate you in an emergency. The Department uses these Alerts to convey information about terrorist threats, security incidents, planned demonstrations, natural disasters, etc. In an emergency, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate or call the following numbers: 1(888) 407-4747 (toll-free in the United States and Canada) or 1 (202) 501-4444 from other countries or jurisdictions.

We will update if/when we know more.
Update 8:26 pm PDT: 
The cable released by State/M Brian Bulatao says:  “Effective March 14, 2020, I hereby approve authorized departure (AD) from any diplomatic or consular post of U.S. direct hire employees or eligible family members (EFMs) as listed on employee orders and defined in 14 FAM 511.3 who, after confidential consultation with MED, have determined they are at higher risk of a poor outcome if exposed to COVID-19, or who have requested departure based on a commensurate justification in foreign areas.”
Our source, not from Public Affairs, interpret this to mean that  MED approval is not specifically required but you need to refer to MED when you go tell your boss you want out.
The  last time we had a global authorized/ordered departure order was probably during Y2K, was it? (The State Department at that time also issued an edict stating that all embassies must be prepared to be self-sufficient for 30 days by January 1, 2000). 
Would be interested to hear how this plays out this coming week and how folks are weighing the decision whether to avail of the voluntary evacuation to return to the United States shortly versus staying put at post. Given the slow response and unsettling chaos with the USG’s handling of the pandemic domestically, the decision may depend on post, location, and healthcare system in the host country. Drop us a note if you want to share. 

 

US Embassy Turkmenistan Now on Voluntary Departure For Non-Emergency USG Staffers/Family Members

 

On March 6, 2020, the State Department issued a “Level3: Reconsider Travel” for Turkmenistan due to travel restrictions and quarantine  procedures instituted by the Government of Turkmenistan in response to COVID-19. It also announced the voluntary evacuation of non-emergency USG personnel and their family members:

Reconsider travel to Turkmenistan due to travel restrictions and quarantine procedures instituted by the Government of Turkmenistan in response to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). 

On March 6, 2020, the Department allowed for the voluntary departure of non-emergency personnel and family members of U.S. government employees.  The Government of Turkmenistan has implemented enhanced screening and quarantine measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19.  All incoming international flights are being redirected to Turkmenabat, approximately 291 miles from Ashgabat.  Passengers will be required to undergo medical screening and possibly involuntary quarantine at local medical facilities.   

Travelers should be prepared for travel restrictions to be put into effect with little or no advance notice. Visit the website of U.S. Embassy Ashgabat for additional information on these new measures.

Medical protocols in Turkmenistan are not consistent with U.S. standards and some travelers have been required to undergo medical testing unrelated to COVID-19 including but not limited to HIV testing.  Consider declining any medical procedures including testing unrelated to COVID-19.

Due to the possibility of quarantine of unknown length, carry additional supplies of necessary medication in carry-on luggage.  Contact the U.S. Embassy if you are subject to quarantine or prior to undergoing any invasive medical testing or procedures.

Please read the Safety and Security section on the country information page

If you decide to travel to Turkmenistan:

U.S. citizens who travel abroad should always have a contingency plan for emergency situations. Review the Traveler’s Checklist.