The New York Times reports that the US State Department and Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, John P Abizaid, had failed to take the measures required to protect diplomats and staff at the embassy in the Kingdom from the coronavirus pandemic.
Dozens of employees at the embassy became ill in June following a birthday party they attended. More than 20 people had had to be quarantined, while a Sudanese driver for the US diplomats died after having become infected.
Diplomats subsequently sent an unofficial, encoded message to members of Congress, which eventually reached the House Foreign Affairs Committee, managing diplomatic missions. According to the NYT, the Committee’s chairperson, Eliot Engel said that it “immediately looked into reports about dangers to American personnel and citizens in Saudi Arabia as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.”
Meanwhile, just two weeks before, in mid-June, despite embassies in Yemen and the Philippines having been closed, the US State Department refused to allow “high-risk individuals” to leave for the US.
The State Department, on Saturday, finally extended permission for non-emergency personnel and their family members to leave the Kingdom for the United States.
As coronavirus numbers spike in Saudi Arabia, anxiety-stricken US embassy officials and staff say this is not enough. They want most of the roughly 500 American employees at the embassy in Riyadh and the two consulates, evacuated. Following the birthday party infections, they believe that the US State Department and Abizaid, did not take the severity of virus seriously.
Umm Muhammed Umar