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US embassy in Kabul goes on Covid lockdown after 1 worker dies, more than 100 infected in major outbreak

The US embassy in the Afghan capital Kabul has told its staff to work remotely from their quarters after a spike in coronavirus cases saw one local worker die, dozens infected and several others evacuated for medical treatment.

The personnel have been confined to their quarters, only being allowed to get food from dining facilities, exercise or relax on their own, the embassy announced in a statement on Thursday. Face-to-face meetings indoors have been banned unless “absolutely mission-critical,” it added.

Embassy employees who don’t wear masks and ignore other Covid-related rules could face removal from their post “on the next available flight,” the statement warned. The restrictions at the US compound “will continue until the chain of transmission is broken,” it added.

The epidemiological situation is so serious that “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,” the embassy said. Some 95% of the infected were unvaccinated or only partially vaccinated against Covid-19, it added, while urging staff to swiftly get their jabs.

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The staff member who died due to the virus was an Afghan national, according to State Department spokesman Ned Price, who added: “We are saddened by the deaths of many valiant Afghans who've been sickened by this pandemic and we in fact grieve the passing of a local embassy staff member.”

Price didn’t reveal the number of those infected at the site, but internal embassy documents reportedly seen by US media indicated that 114 employees were sick with Covid and several others medically evacuated.

The compound’s lockdown comes amid a huge spike in cases in Afghanistan, which has put the turbulent country’s health system on the brink of collapse. The number of infections rose by a whopping 2,400% over the past month, according to Red Cross data.

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Earlier this week, the US embassy suspended all in-person visa interviews, potentially endangering thousands of Afghans who used to work with the Americans and are now looking to flee the country ahead of the US military’s pullout, which is scheduled to be concluded by September 11.

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