On Monday, June 29, 2020, the State Department issued an updated Travel Advisory for Saudi Arabia announcing that on Wednesday, June 24, it authorized the voluntary evacuation of nonemergency personnel and family members from the US Mission in Saudi Arabia. This includes Embassy Riyadh, and the consulates general in Jeddah and Dhahran. The order was issued “due to current conditions in Saudi Arabia associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.”
On June 24, 2020, the Department of State authorized the departure of non-emergency U.S. personnel and family members from the U.S. Mission to Saudi Arabia, which is comprised of the Embassy in Riyadh and the Consulates General in Jeddah and Dhahran, due to current conditions in Saudi Arabia associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Apparently, dozens of mission employees got sick last month, and many more were quarantined. A third country national working as a driver for the mission’s top diplomats had reportedly died. The Embassy’s Emergency Action Committee “approved the departure for high risk individuals” but the State Department “denied” the request advising post “to do whatever it can to hold on until the Covid problem improves.”
Whatthewhat? Hold on is the plan?
Also that “more recently, officials on the embassy’s emergency action committee recommended to Mr. Abizaid that most American employees should be ordered to evacuate, with only emergency personnel staying. Mr. Abizaid has not acted on that.”
Reminds us of what happened at some posts back in March (Is @StateDept Actively Discouraging US Embassies From Requesting Mandatory Evacuations For Staff? #CentralAsia? #Worldwide?). COVID-19 Pandemic Howler: “No one in DC, to include S, gives AF about AF”. More recently, reports of COVID-19 cases at US Embassy Kabul (US Embassy Kabul: As Many as 20 People Infected With COVID-19 (Via AP). Where else?
Folks at our posts in Saudi Arabia should be prepared for what happens next because we have seen it happen elsewhere. There will be a hunt for the sources of information that reached Congress or the media. People will not only have to deal with the illness and the pandemic, or their evacuation to temporary housing, or their temporary separation from loved ones, they may also have to deal with the potential for retaliation.
In the recent past, we learned that there was a hunt for this blog’s sources at one post. In this case, we have the US Mission in Saudi Arabia, and due to the country’s importance and relationship specific to this administration, the blow back could be significant. Let’s pay close attention.
On July 1, via NYT:
Inside the sprawling American Embassy compound in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, a coronavirus outbreak was spreading. Dozens of embassy employees became sick last month, and more than 20 others were quarantined after a birthday barbecue became a potential vector for the spread of the disease.
A Sudanese driver for the top diplomats died.
A bleak analysis from within the embassy that circulated in closed channels in Riyadh and Washington late last month likened the coronavirus situation in Saudi Arabia to that of New York City in March, when an outbreak was set to explode. The assessment said the response from the Saudi government — a close partner of the Trump White House — was insufficient, even as hospitals were getting overwhelmed and health care workers were falling ill.
“Some in the embassy even took the extraordinary step of conveying information to Congress outside official channels, saying that they did not believe the State Department’s leadership or the American ambassador to the kingdom, John P. Abizaid, were taking the situation seriously enough, and that most American Embassy employees and their families should be evacuated. The State Department took those steps months ago at missions elsewhere in the Middle East, Asia and Russia.”
The analysis that circulated in Washington, written by embassy staff members and reviewed by The New York Times, said that the cases were likely to spike through July and that there would probably be a shortage of hospital beds. The embassy’s own medical unit was already overwhelmed with the rise of coronavirus cases among mission employees and their families.
Around mid-June, the embassy’s emergency action committee, composed of senior officials at the diplomatic outpost, approved departure for “high-risk individuals,” the message said, but the State Department had denied the request and advised the embassy “to do whatever it can to hold on until the Covid problem improves.” At the missions, working from home became the norm.
Read more below:
NEW: US embassy officials in Saudi Arabia feel endangered by surging virus. They thought State Dept. leaders & Amb. Abizaid were putting employees at risk, so secretly got info to Congress. Trump is sensitive about MBS & Saudi ties. w/ @MarkMazzettiNYT. https://t.co/zzE2I0N7VM
— Edward Wong (@ewong) July 1, 2020
Back in spring:
US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia John Abizaid urges US citizens to shelter in place in Saudi Arabia, and not come home.
Because food and medical systems, as well as virus monitoring systems are good there. pic.twitter.com/wmjsGghSHn
— Hassan Ahmad (@HMAesq) May 8, 2020