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The Covid outbreak forces the lockdown of the US embassy in Kabul as instances improve in Afghanistan

A US Marine stands guard outside the US embassy December 21, 2001 in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Paula Bronstein | Getty Images

WASHINGTON – The U.S. embassy in Kabul was locked down Thursday as Covid cases in Afghanistan increase and the country's fragile health system reaches its limits.

At the embassy, ​​114 employees tested positive for the coronavirus and are currently in isolation, one person has died and several people have been medically evacuated.

“The intensive care unit of the military hospital is running at full capacity, which is forcing our health units to create temporary Covid-19 units to care for oxygen-dependent patients. 95% of our cases are people who are not or not fully vaccinated. ”The embassy wrote in a statement.

With immediate effect, the embassy said, employees would be restricted to their quarters, except to fetch food from restaurants or to exercise or relax in the open air alone.

“Individuals can walk, run, or relax outdoors without masks provided they are ALONE, which means they are at least 6 meters away from others. Any specific need requires a mask, ”the statement went on, adding that face-to-face meetings indoors are prohibited unless“ absolutely ”business-critical."

People who do not adhere to the guidelines could be removed from the post "on the next available flight," the embassy added.

"The restrictions will continue until the transmission chain is broken," said the statement.

Afghan hospitals are running out of medical equipment and other resources quickly as cases have increased 2,400% in the past month, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said Thursday.

Last week the US embassy in Kabul suspended all consular visa services to deal with an "intense third wave of Covid-19 cases" that may hamper visa status for thousands of Afghans who have supported the US military through the conflict .

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill on Thursday expressed concern about whether the backlog of more than 10,000 Afghan translators and their families would be cleared before remaining US troops withdraw from the war-weary country.

Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Forces Committee during a hearing on the Pentagon's budget proposal that "planning is underway" to protect Afghans who served alongside US and NATO forces.

The country's senior military officer added that the U.S. military would be able to carry out any request as the State Department conducts the thorough visa process for eligible Afghans.

On Tuesday, the Pentagon said it had passed the center of its Herculean task of withdrawing troops and equipment from Afghanistan.

The US military has removed approximately 611 loads of material that were flown out of the country by large cargo planes, according to an update from US Central Command.

The flight crew assigned to Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, carry their equipment into a C-17 Globemaster III assigned to Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina on April 27, 2021.

Staff Sgt. Kylee Gardner | U.S. Air Force photo

Approximately 14,000 pieces of equipment that will not be handed over to the Afghan military have been turned over to the Defense Logistics Agency for destruction. The US officially handed over six facilities to the Afghan military.

Biden announced in April a full withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan by September 11th, which would end America's longest war.

The schedule for Biden's withdrawal breaks with a proposed deadline negotiated with the Taliban by the Trump administration last year. Accordingly, all foreign armed forces should have left Afghanistan by May 1st.

The removal of approximately 3,000 US soldiers coincides with the 20th anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks that spurred America's entry into protracted wars in the Middle East and Central Asia.

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