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US pauses incoming flights with Afghan evacuees after four measles cases are discovered

Evacuees board an Atlas aircraft that will take them to the United States from Afghanistan on August 26, 2021 from Ramstein Air Base in Ramstein-Miesenbach, Germany.

Andreas Rentz | Getty Images

Flights to the United States with evacuees from Afghanistan were suspended after four cases of measles were diagnosed in Afghans who had already arrived in the country, the White House said on Friday.

Flights have been temporarily suspended "out of caution" at the request of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters.

Afghans diagnosed with measles are in quarantine in accordance with public health guidelines and the CDC has started contact tracing, Psaki said.

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The CDC did not immediately respond to CNBC's request for comment on Psaki's remarks.

Psaki noted that all those arriving as part of Operation Allies Welcome, the Biden government's ongoing efforts to relocate Afghan allies following the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, must be vaccinated against measles as an entry requirement.

Unprecedented efforts to evacuate thousands of US citizens, Afghans and other allies before the end of August withdrawal deadline resulted in chaotic shortages of people huddled at Kabul's Hamid Karzai International Airport. Thirteen US soldiers and dozens more were killed in a suicide bombing near the airport days before the withdrawal was complete.

In total, the US and its allies have displaced more than 124,000 people, including 6,000 US citizens, from Afghanistan, the State Department said this week.

There are still US citizens, legal permanent residents, and US allied Afghans trying to leave Afghanistan. According to the White House, 21 more U.S. citizens and 11 legal permanent residents left the country on Friday.

Measles is a highly contagious virus that can be transmitted through coughing or sneezing, says the CDC. People can contract measles if they inhale contaminated air or touch a contaminated surface and then touch their eyes, nose, or mouth, according to the agency.

About half a million new measles cases were reported to the CDC each year for two decades until a measles vaccine was introduced in 1963. In 2000, the health department stated that measles would no longer be transmitted among Americans.

But hundreds of measles cases were reported in 2019 – a big jump from previous years – as a growing number of parents refused to vaccinate their children.

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