By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
If you are a U.S. tourist visiting Mexico, it’s time to go home!
That was the message that U.S. Ambassador Christopher Landau expressed in a one-hour live, virtual townhall for U.S. citizens transmitted over Facebook on Tuesday, March 31.
Despite faulty sound and continuous internet disconnects, Landau and his consular team tried to calm concerns by U.S. citizens currently in Mexico and those who might be planning to visit in the near future.
More than 2,000 people tuned in to hear the ambassador respond to Covid-19 questions regarding everything from medical coverage to visa extensions.
Addressing each of 16 questions posed by participating U.S. citizens, Landau made it clear that any U.S. citizen, whether tourist or immigrant to Mexico, who did not return immediately to the United States should be “ready to ride out the Covid-19 pandemic here in Mexico.”
“Do not rely on the U.S. government to help you get home,” he said.
“Book a commercial flight while they are available.”
The ambassador also reminded Americans that most U.S. health insurance — including Medicare and Medicaid — do not cover hospitalizations and medical costs outside the United States, and many travel insurances do not include repatriation costs via an air ambulance, which can run into the 100,000s of dollars.
He stressed that the U.S. government cannot and will not pay for these expenses.
Notwithstanding, Landau stressed that while consular services have been reduced to necessary procedures only for the duration of the coronavirus crisis, essential services, such as emergency passport renewals and birth registrations, are still being offered.
Asked if those who have immigrant visas in Mexico should consider returning to the United States at this time, Landau said that “there are no right or wrong answers.”
Each individual should consider their particular situations and consult with their families and physicians, he said.
Landau likewise warned anyone considering traveling to Mexico for family reunions or holiday vacations to “please stay home.”
“The State Department has issued a Level 4 advisory to avoid international travel anywhere,” he said.
“This is not the time for nonessential travel.”
During a worldwide pandemic, he said, “the best place to be is home.”
For the time being, he said, U.S. citizens will not be denied entrance to the United States if they arrive by car, but they may face intensified health checks or quarantine if they have Covid-19 symptoms.
“The situation is changing day-by-day, and even hour-by-hour,” Landau said.
He said that he was unable to say how long the current border restrictions would remain in place.
The ambassador said that he could not comment on whether or not Mexican immigration authorities would penalize U.S. tourists who overstay their visas, but said that he had heard nothing from the Mexican government of plans to pardon these infractions.
Asked if the U.S. Embassy would consider organizing charter flights to help get U.S. citizens out of Mexico should all commercial flights be canceled, Landau said that it would be an “absolute last resort,” and that those who want to return home should book a commercial flight and be prepared for possible long connections.
In case of a dire emergency, Landau and his staff recommended contacting the U.S. Embassy at firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 55-8256-2561.
Landan concluded by saying that all U.S. citizens in Mexico should follow Mexican and U.S. guidelines in confronting the virus, such as frequent handwashing, social distancing and staying at home.
“Be safe, stay home and remember that we are here for you,” he said.
“Your safety and security are our Number 1 priority.”
Landau said that the U.S. Embassy may host similar virtual townhalls in the near future.