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The U.S. Embassy in Kabul locks down, hit by a coronavirus outbreak surging across Afghanistan. | Press "Enter" to skip to content

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul locks down, hit by a coronavirus outbreak surging across Afghanistan.

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KABUL, Afghanistan — The U.S. Embassy in Kabul went into lockdown on Thursday, citing a surge in coronavirus cases that has swamped the medical facilities that remain open to American diplomats as the U.S. military and international forces depart the country.

“Military hospital I.C.U. resources are at full capacity, forcing our health units to create temporary on-compound Covid-19 wards to care for oxygen-dependent patients,” the embassy said in a management notice released on Thursday.

The notice said that one person associated with the embassy had died, several had been medically evacuated and 114 people were infected and in isolation. The document said that 95 percent of the current cases were in people who were “unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated,” even though vaccines were available at the embassy. It noted that 90 percent of the Afghans and people from other countries on the embassy staff had been vaccinated.

In Washington, the State Department’s spokesman, Ned Price, said the embassy could not require its employees to be vaccinated and confirmed that nearly all of the cases in this “significant outbreak” were among those who were not fully immunized. He said that Covid vaccines had been made available to the Kabul embassy workers over the last several months.

Embassy operations have been adjusted as a result of the outbreak, Mr. Price said, with employees required to work from home and take all necessary precautions, including wearing masks and social distancing, as Afghanistan grapples with what he described as its third wave of coronavirus.

The embassy and U.S. military forces in Afghanistan contended with an earlier coronavirus outbreak, one that paralyzed the advising mission for the Afghan military and prompted a lockdown of the diplomatic mission.

The notice on Thursday warned that “failure to abide by the Mission’s Covid policies will result in consequences up to and including removal from the post on the next available flight.”

The embassy suspended issuing visas last week because of a surge of coronavirus cases in Afghanistan. The seemingly minor decision has had a significant impact on Afghans who have worked for the U.S. military and government and who are desperately trying to complete their visa process so they can emigrate to the United States.

Many of those applicants have been threatened by the Taliban, and the security situation in Afghanistan has been deteriorating amid the withdrawal of American and international military forces. President Biden announced in April that all forces would be out by Sept. 11.

The Afghan ministry of public health recorded more than 2,000 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, along with 101 deaths, the most in a single day since the beginning of the pandemic. Overall, 98,844 cases have been reported in the country.

However, those official figures reflect only a small fraction of the country’s actual number of infections and deaths. Testing is severely limited, Afghanistan’s struggling health system is nonexistent in some rural areas, and transportation to hospitals and clinics is often restricted because of fighting and roadside bombs.


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