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Outbreak Of Over 100 COVID-19 Cases Sends U.S. Embassy In Afghanistan Into Lockdown

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In Afghanistan, U.S. Embassy officials are in lockdown because of an outbreak of COVID-19. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: State Department spokesperson Ned Price says Afghanistan is facing an intense wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

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NED PRICE: We are saddened by the deaths of many valiant Afghans who have been sickened by this pandemic. We - and we, in fact, grieve the passing of a local embassy staff member.

KELEMEN: A medical notice to embassy staff paints a grim picture, with 114 cases and military hospitals at capacity. The embassy had to set up an emergency COVID ward. Several people had to be evacuated. The outbreak comes at a difficult time as U.S. troops pull out, and thousands of Afghans who worked with the Americans try to get visas to leave, too.

ROSS WILSON: We had to suspend interviews because of a return of COVID to Afghanistan into our community.

KELEMEN: That's U.S. Ambassador Ross Wilson, who doesn't expect to be able to resume in-person visa interviews for another two to three weeks. His staff is all in lockdown. The State Department says 95% of the embassy workers who contracted COVID-19 are either unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated. The president of the State Department's union, Eric Rubin, is getting calls about that.

ERIC RUBIN: We're hearing from our members that they're very concerned that their safety has been endangered by fellow employees who have chosen not to be vaccinated. And obviously, that's not theoretical now. We have a death. We have 114 cases. We have a general lockdown.

KELEMEN: Rubin says he's hearing similar concerns at other embassies, even though the department has offered vaccines to everyone, including local staffers.

RUBIN: Our understanding is there is now enough vaccine that every embassy and consulate in the world for everyone who wants to get it.

KELEMEN: And he thinks it should be required in places like Kabul.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.