Surviving the Outbreak, Reflections on ConGen Wuhan’s Evacuation and Life in Quarantine (Via @StateMag)

 

Featured in the  April 2020 issue of State Magazine (published by the State Department’s Bureau of Human Resources) is an article by Russell J. Westergard, the deputy consular chief at the U.S. Consulate General in Wuhan, China.
Surviving the Outbreak, Reflections on ConGen Wuhan’s evacuation and life in quarantine

By mid-October 2019, the dedicated team at the U.S. Consulate General in Wuhan knew that the city had been struck by what was thought to be an unusually vicious flu season. The disease worsened in November. When city officials began to close public schools in mid-December to control the spread of the disease, the team passed the word to Embassy Beijing and continued monitoring. The possibility of a new viral outbreak was always on the consulate’s radar. Still, the working assumption in every scenario had always been that, as in past outbreaks like H1N1 (known as swine flu), it would appear in rural areas first and then spread to major urban centers across China. 

When the Chinese government announced on December 29th that the new and novel coronavirus (COVID-19) had been identified and traced to a live animal market near the U.S. consulate, it caught the team’s attention. Four hectic weeks later, ConGen Wuhan closed under ordered departure with the consulate team pulling off what some people involved have since described as a minor miracle. Consulate staff found themselves at the airport of a paralyzed city preparing to evacuate family members and other U.S. citizens from what would turn out to be ground zero of a deadly global pandemic.

Fast forward to the second week in February. As the ConGen Wuhan team, family members, and the rest of the 195 passengers on board that first flight from Wuhan concluded their 14-day quarantine at the March Air Reserve Base (ARB) in Southern California, the joy and a collective sigh of relief were audible.

Read in full here.

 

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Trump Announces Travel Ban For Travelers From Schengen Area (26 European Countries) Over COVID-19

Via WH:
“The World Health Organization has determined that multiple countries within the Schengen Area are experiencing sustained person-to-person transmission of SARS-CoV-2.  For purposes of this proclamation, the Schengen Area comprises 26 European states: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.  The Schengen Area currently has the largest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases outside of the People’s Republic of China.  As of March 11, 2020, the number of cases in the 26 Schengen Area countries is 17,442, with 711 deaths, and shows high continuous growth in infection rates.  In total, as of March 9, 2020, the Schengen Area has exported 201 COVID-19 cases to 53 countries.  Moreover, the free flow of people between the Schengen Area countries makes the task of managing the spread of the virus difficult.”
This proclamation is effective at 11:59 p.m. eastern daylight time on March 13, 2020.  This proclamation does not apply to persons aboard a flight scheduled to arrive in the United States that departed prior to 11:59 p.m. eastern daylight time on March 13, 2020.
The travel restriction is for “The entry into the United States, as immigrants or nonimmigrants, of all aliens who were physically present within the Schengen Area during the 14-day period preceding their entry or attempted entry into the United States is hereby suspended and limited subject to section 2 of this proclamation.”
Click here for the scope of suspension and long list of  limitations of entry.

@StateDept Issues “Global Level 3 Health Advisory – Reconsider Travel” Over COVID-19

 

On March 11, 2020, the State Department issued a “Global Level 3 Health Advisory – Reconsider Travel.”

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.     

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

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.

If you decide to travel abroad:

It looks like the State Department is also working to adapt its website to the ongoing outbreak. On travel.state.gov‘s travel advisories page, a new tab for COVID-19 Country Specific Information has been added which links directly to various embassies’ COVID-19 webpage, as well as a tab for Visa Alerts – Banner (currently unpopulated with information).
We are still looking for improvements on the “health alert” advisories. There is no easy way to search for them on travel.state.gov. Some of the health advisories like those for Israel is not included in the Travel Advisory. The embassies COVID-19 page also do not include links to the post issued “health alerts.” US Embassy Jamaica’s COVID-19 page has been overtaken by events and there is no clear link to the recent “health alert.”

US Mission Italy: Only Emergency Consular Services Available in Rome, Milan, Naples, Florence Due to Reduced Staffing

 

On March 10, the US Embassy in Rome issued a Health Alert noting that only emergency consular services will be available at all posts in Italy due to the reduced staffing that  goes into effect on March 11, 2020:

Event:  Due to reduced staffing that went into effect March 11, only emergency American Citizen Services and emergency visa services are available at the U.S. Embassy in Rome and Consulates General Milan, Naples, and Florence.

The CDC advises travelers to avoid nonessential travel to Italy and State Department currently recommends U.S. citizens reconsider travel. See CDC information regarding high-risk traveler categories.

On March 9, the Italian government released a decree prohibiting movement in public places except for justifiable work reasons (commuting, public and commercial transport is allowed), basic necessities (i.e., food shopping), and health emergencies.  The decree also cancels sporting events and public gatherings and closes schools, universities, and recreational facilities through April 3.  The Italian government has stated the new decree does not prevent travelers from departing Italy.

The Italian government has announced that law enforcement authorities would establish checkpoints at airports and train stations to collect self-declaration forms from travelers specifying the purpose of their movement and their destination.  Italian officials have also noted that checkpoints may established on highways to collect these forms.

In areas of Italy with large numbers of COVID-19 cases, the local healthcare system is under significant strain.

Public transportation including airlines, trains, and buses continue to operate, but with reduced frequency.  Travelers should check carrier schedules for the latest updates and work directly with the carrier or travel agent to arrange or reschedule travel.  Travelers should be prepared for the possibility of additional travel restrictions to be implemented with little or no advance notice.

 

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.

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

 

On March 6, 2020, the State Department issued a “Level 3: Reconsider Travel” to Azerbaijan Travel Advisory due to the COVID-19 outbreak and the response of the Azerbaijani Government. It also announced the voluntary departure from post of non-emergency USG staffers and their family members. Excerpt:

Reconsider travel to Azerbaijan due to an outbreak of COVID-19 and responsive measures implemented by the Government of Azerbaijan.

Reconsider travel to Azerbaijan due to the risk of a significant increase of COVID-19 cases emanating from the Iranian border and the Government of Azerbaijan’s response to COVID-19. The Government of Azerbaijan is screening international travelers for symptoms of COVID-19 and has implemented mandatory quarantine for suspected cases in designated quarantine facilities. Travel restrictions imposed in other countries and reduced commercial flight availability may impede people seeking medical evacuation. Medical care in Azerbaijan is not consistent with U.S. standards and basic medical supplies may be unavailable in some areas. Travelers should consider these factors and their health before traveling to Azerbaijan and follow the Centers for Disease Control’s guidelines for the prevention of coronavirus if they decide to travel.

On March 6, 2020 the Department of State allowed for the voluntary departure of non-emergency U.S. government employees and their family members.

Azerbaijan has a longstanding risk presented by terrorist groups, who continue plotting possible attacks in Azerbaijan. Terrorists may attack with little or no warning, targeting tourist locations, transportation hubs, markets/shopping malls, local government facilities, hotels, clubs, restaurants, places of worship, parks, major sporting and cultural events, educational institutions, airports, and other public areas. 

Level 4 – Do not travel to:

The Nagorno-Karabakh region due to armed conflict.