Watchdog report faults chaotic and unsafe response to early pandemic overseas evacuations

Remember the repatriation flights at the beginning of the pandemic? The Government Accountability Office is out with a new report finding faults in the response.

A lack of specific planning and infighting between federal agencies in the earliest days of the coronavirus pandemic led to a chaotic effort to bring home hundreds of Americans from overseas that put repatriates, federal personnel and nearby communities at risk, according to the report.

The GAO report found the agencies within the Department of Health and Human Services “experienced serious fundamental coordination challenges, including disagreement over whether to designate the effort as an evacuation or repatriation.”

The report centers around efforts between January and March 2020 to bring back to America approximately 1,100 individuals from Wuhan, China, and the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Yokohama, Japan.

According to the report, HHS agencies did not follow repatriation plans or guidance and had not previously exercised emergency repatriation plans in the context of a pandemic, which would have helped clarify roles and responsibilities and identify any response efforts needing improvement.

The GAO probe found agencies were fighting over who was in charge, and disagreements over the terminology led to confusion and safety lapses.