WASHINGTON (AP) — The Peace Corps is telling its volunteers around the world that it is suspending all operations globally and evacuating all volunteers in light of the spread of the new coronavirus.
In an open letter to volunteers posted Sunday on its website, the federal agency's director, Jody Olsen, says the decision follows recent evacuations in China and Mongolia due to the outbreak.
Olsen says that with evacuations now underway at other posts and travel becoming more challenging by the day, the agency decided to expand the suspension and evacuations.
The Peace Corps was established in 1961 during the Kennedy administration as a government-run volunteer program serving nations around the world.
Read the full letter from Director Jody Olsen:
I know this is a very stressful time for you and your families, your host communities and the staff at your post.
As you know, we recently evacuated Volunteers from China and Mongolia due to the COVID-19 outbreak and related travel constraints and school closings. Further evacuations are now under way at several posts. Unfortunately, it has become clear in the last 48 hours that numerous posts must follow suit.
It is against this backdrop that I have made the difficult decision to temporarily suspend all Peace Corps operations globally and evacuate all of our Volunteers. As COVID-19 continues to spread and international travel becomes more and more challenging by the day, we are acting now to safeguard your well-being and prevent a situation where Volunteers are unable to leave their host countries.
Evacuations are difficult, emotionally draining experiences for everyone involved. We are here for you, and we will do all that we can to keep you informed and up to date on the latest developments. Ensuring your health, safety and security is the highest priority of the Peace Corps. I want to stress that Headquarters remains open under its own Continuity of Operations Plan, and agency personnel are working 24/7 to support you and our staff overseas.
I also want to assure you and our host country partners that these evacuations represent the temporary suspension of Volunteer activities. We are not closing posts, and we will be ready to return to normal operations when conditions permit. Importantly, our host country staff will remain in their current positions. They play a critical role in every element of the Peace Corps mission, especially in a time of crisis.
Look for more information from your Country Director in the hours ahead. I deeply appreciate your patience and understanding as we work through these logistically challenging operations.
My thoughts are with you, and I am incredibly grateful for your service.