The U.S. State Department raised its travel advisory worldwide to Level 4: Do Not Travel in response to the coronavirus pandemic, according to two U.S. officials with knowledge of the decision, NBC News reports.
The advisory instructs U.S. citizens not to travel abroad and mandate that Americans overseas return to the U.S. or shelter in place.
"The Department of State advises U.S. citizens to avoid all international travel due to the global impact of COVID-19," the State Department said in a statement. "In countries where commercial departure options remain available, U.S. citizens who live in the United States should arrange for immediate return to the United States, unless they are prepared to remain abroad for an indefinite period. U.S. citizens who live abroad should avoid all international travel."
Last week, the State Department issued a Level 3 travel advisory, warning Americans to "reconsider travel" abroad amid widespread border closures and nationwide quarantines as countries scramble to contain the outbreak.
Politico first reported the heightened advisory level.
Earlier Thursday, the State Department also advised that beginning March 20, passport agencies will only accept applications for U.S. citizens with "qualifying life-or-death" emergencies who plan to travel within 72 hours. The department said Americans who need an emergency passport for serious illnesses, injuries or deaths in a person's immediate family must provide supporting documents, as well as proof of travel.
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The latest guidance comes as the death toll in Italy from the coronavirus overtook China's on Thursday, and appeared to be opening an alarming new front in Africa.
It also reached at least one European head of state: 62-year-old Prince Albert II of the tiny principality of Monaco. The palace announced that he tested positive but was continuing to work from his office and was being treated by doctors from Princess Grace Hospital, named after his American actress mother.
The worldwide death toll crept toward 10,000 as the total number of infections topped 220,000, including nearly 85,000 people who have recovered.