Washington (AP) – The US embassy in Afghanistan ordered a near-complete lockdown on Thursday due to a sharp rise in coronavirus cases among staff.
With the imminent withdrawal of US forces from the country at an already precarious level, the embassy in Kabul ordered the remaining staff to be placed in virtual isolation to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including already killed at least one person, 114 were sent to quarantine and several people were forced to be medically evacuated.
The embassy, in a notice to staff, said that almost all group activities, including work meetings and recreational gatherings, have been banned as intensive care units at military medical facilities in Afghanistan are at full capacity and the number of cases has made it difficult to establish a temporary COVID-19 outbreak. – 19 wards to take care of patients requiring oxygen.
It said the ban would remain in force until the chain of transmission is broken. Violators will be deported from the country on the next available flight. The notice said that 95% of the cases involve people who have not been vaccinated or fully vaccinated against the virus and urged all staff to take advantage of the vaccines available at the embassy.
Acting US Ambassador Ross Wilson said in the notice, “We must break the chain of transmission to protect each other and ensure the mission’s ability to run the nation’s business.” “Until the chain of transmission is broken, the ban will continue.”
“We are all in this together and count on your support during this difficult time,” he said. “We can only return to normal operations with everyone’s cooperation.”
The restrictions limit all personnel at the Kabul embassy to their living quarters, except to obtain food or exercise or rest outside on their own. This requirement bans all sports and means that personnel must stay at least 20 feet from others unless they are wearing a mask.
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The announcement was distributed to journalists and others. American Foreign Service Association, the union that represents American diplomats.
“At a time as US withdrawal is intensifying, attacks on Afghan and coalition forces are intensifying and the US is seeking to establish a stable and positive presence in post-withdrawal Afghanistan, safeguarding our national security and national interests. The damage is potentially serious,” the association said of the outbreak.
It also issued the Biden administration to require all employees of all US embassies and consulates abroad to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition of their employment.
The State Department acknowledged that Afghanistan is suffering from an “acute third wave of COVID-19 cases” and that the embassy had “adjusted” operations to deal with the outbreak among staff for health and security reasons, but declined to discuss specifics. done.
Spokesman Ned Price told reporters that vaccines are available and encouraged for all employees, but said there is no current need for vaccinations.
Staff levels at the Kabul embassy have already been significantly reduced until the completion of the withdrawal of US and NATO forces from Afghanistan, which President Joe Biden has promised by September 11, the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the United States. has ordered. , 2001.
In April, shortly after Biden’s announcement, personnel who had jobs that did not require their physical presence at the embassy were sent to telework elsewhere.