The US embassy in Kabul has had to shut down almost all its operations because of a Covid-19 outbreak that has killed one staffer, and left 114 infected and quarantined.
According to a notice sent to all embassy staff on Thursday, “several” people have had to be medevaced. Military intensive care units (ICUs) are full, and emergency ICUs have had to be improvised on the embassy compound.
Embassy employees have been told to stay in their quarters except for going to the cafeteria or taking exercise alone.
“Exceptions for work outside of quarters must be both mission-critical and time-sensitive, and approved by supervisors in writing,” the notice said. “Failure to abide by the mission’s Covid policies will result in consequences up to and including removal from post on the next available flight.”
The memo said 95% of the Covid cases were among staff who were unvaccinated or only partially vaccinated. It said vaccines were available and urged staff to get the jab, noting that over 90% of the Afghan and non-American staff have been vaccinated.
The memo seemed to imply there has been reluctance among US embassy staff to get vaccinated. The state department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The lockdown comes at a time when the US embassy is helping coordinate a withdrawal of remaining US forces in Afghanistan, a process that began in May and which the Pentagon says is now over 50% complete. The full drawdown is due to be completed by 11 September.
“Covid-19 is surging in the mission,” Thursday’s management notice said. “One hundred and 14 of our colleagues now have Covid and are in isolation; one has died, and several have been medevaced. Military hospital ICU resources are at full capacity, forcing our health units to create temporary, on-compound Covid-19 wards to care for oxygen-dependent patients.”
“We must break the chain of transmission to protect one another and ensure the mission’s ability to carry out the nation’s business,” the notice, approved by ambassador Ross Wilson, said.
“We are all in this together and rely on your cooperation during this difficult time. We can only return to normal operations with the cooperation of everyone.”