The U.S. Embassy in Kabul on Thursday ordered staff to avoid leaving their quarters to cope with a surge of Covid-19 cases that has filled intensivecare units and led to multiple evacuations and the death of at least one staff member.
An internal management notice reviewed by The Wall Street Journal described a chaotic situation at the embassy. Some 114 coronavirus cases have been confirmed among staff, it said.
The rapid spread of the illness has stretched medical facilities, said the notice, forcing health units to create temporary wards. The intensive-care unit at the U.S. military hospital that supports the embassy is full, and several staff members have been evacuated.
While the embassy has downsized in recent years as the U.S. has prepared to end its 20-year military engagement in Afghanistan, hundreds of people continue to serve there. The notice encouraged staff to report violations of the orders and warned that those failing to comply risk being sent home.
The orders confine all staff to their quarters, except to get food or to exercise or relax outdoors alone. Meal-sharing, including among vaccinated staff, is prohibited.
Exceptions would be made only for mission-critical and time-sensitive tasks approved by supervisors in writing.
The U.S. Embassy, located near Kabul airport in the heavily fortified diplomatic area of the Afghan capital, is a sprawling complex where most staff live and work. Due to deteriorating security conditions, staff rarely leave.
The American Foreign Service Association, which represents State Department staff, said the crisis threatens U.S. national-security interests, as well as employees’ health.
It urged the White House to allow the State Department to require Afghanistan-based staff to get vaccinated, with exceptions for medical or religious reasons, to prevent further loss of life.