US v. China: Dueling COVID-19 Donations in Namibia

 

On March 18, the Chinese Ambassador to Namibia had an official hand-over of reportedly a thousand COVID-19 test kits donations with Health Minister Kalumbi Shangula. Kalumbi Shangula is a Namibian doctor and politician of SWAPO Party who has been Minister of Health and Social Services since December 2018.
On March 19, the US Ambassador to Namibia Lisa Johnson had an official hand-over of donations with Namibia’s Ministry of Health and Social Services Executive Director Ben T. Nangombe, the number #3 ranking official at the Ministry of Health. The USG donated three ambulances, hospital beds, and other medical supplies per U.S. Embassy Namibia.

Advertisements

Is @StateDept Actively Discouraging US Embassies From Requesting Mandatory Evacuations For Staff? #CentralAsia? #Worldwide?

Updated: March 24, 12:54 am PDT

Updated: March 24, 2020 10:47 pm PDT

Updated March 26, 12:07 am PDT

SSDO Special Briefing, March 24, 2020

QUESTION:  [… ] And then secondly, I’m sure you’ve seen these reports that there are numerous embassies, or at least several embassies, where people are basically clamoring for order departure status, and that they are being discouraged from that.  Can you address that?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Oh, no.  All help is appreciated.  On the second part of your question, Matt, so our embassies overseas have their emergency teams meet regularly to discuss the situation at post, and they have a process and procedure in place where they can really evaluate the transportation system, the healthcare system, and not just the status of COVID in the country.  And when they reach a certain point where they feel like, okay, maybe time to request authorized ordered departure, they submit a request to the undersecretary of management, and those are coming in regularly, and the undersecretary reviews them and then makes decisions on what to approve.  At this point, I think one of the biggest issues is the travel restrictions that countries are instituting around the world.

MODERATOR ONE:  If I could just add on to that, those decisions are made against a robust set of criteria and decisions made based to – based on a consistent set of principles, all which are geared towards maximizing the safety for our employees.

On March 19, we received an email from a post in Central Asia with the subject line: “Abandoned in Central Asia.” We learned that “after weeks of internal debate with Main State” authorized (voluntary) departure was finally approved for their Embassy on March 17. Apparently, last week, the Embassy’s Emergency Action Committee (EAC) also agreed that it was time to go OD”, that is, go on ordered departure, a mandatory evacuation from post except for emergency staffers. Note that the OD was not for suspension of operations.

Ordered Departures: Talking Ambassadors “out of it”

Sender A said that the Embassy’s EAC recommended “OD on Wednesday (March 18)” and then something happened. The South Central Asia (SCA) top bureau official reportedly “talked the AMB out of it.”  As to the rationale for this development, we were told that embassy employees were not informed. 
“We just know that on Sunday [March 15] EACs at two posts said they wanted OD” and by Monday, March 16, the respective chiefs of mission “had refused based on input” from the top bureau official, according to Sender A. 
So curious minds would like to know if these OD requests have actually been refused or if ambassadors were under pressure not to formally request it so the bureau will not have to refuse it in writing? Anyone know?
The frustrated employee writes: U.S. diplomats are now stuck in countries where U.S. citizens are specifically advised not to use local medical facilities and the Embassies only have small medical units for minor issues. Even if they’re needed, there are zero local hospital beds available. Best case, it sounds like multiple OIG complaints waiting to happen. But when did the administration’s image at home become more important than people’s lives? How much Swagger will SecState have when his people start dying?”

A Snapshot on Medical Facilities

We thought we’d checked the information on medical facilities for several countries in the region. For example, Turkmenistan is a Level 3 Reconsider Travel country. The State Department’s Travel Advisory says:
Medical protocols in Turkmenistan are not consistent with U.S. standards and some travelers have been required to undergo medical testing unrelated to COVID-19 including but not limited to HIV testing.  Consider declining any medical procedures including testing unrelated to COVID-19. Due to the possibility of quarantine of unknown length, carry additional supplies of necessary medication in carry-on luggage.”
According to Diplomatic Security’s 2020 Crime and Safety Report on Uzbekistan:
The country’s “health care system is not adequate to meet the needs of many serious emergencies. There is a lack of basic supplies and limited modern equipment. Emergency medicine is very basic. Some medication sold in local pharmacies may be counterfeit. Elderly travelers and those with pre-existing health problems may be at particular risk due to inadequate medical facilities. Most resident U.S. citizens travel to North America or Western Europe for their medical needs.”
Tajikistan’s “inadequate public healthcare infrastructure has given rise to private medical facilities offering varying degrees of quality care in some specialties. Also:
“Medical first responders (ambulance crews) do not meet Western standards, and are not widely available, likely poorly equipped, and often poorly trained.”
On Kyrgyzstan: Medical care is often inadequate in the country.
 “There is a shortage of basic medical supplies. Health care resources are limited and often below U.S. standards. Doctors and medical industry staff rarely speak English, and prices for treatment are not fixed. Use a translator or Russian/Kyrgyz speaking friend or family member to assist with medical treatment. U.S. citizens often travel outside of Kyrgyzstan for medical treatment, including most routine procedures.”
In Kazakhstan, medical care options are limited and well below U.S. standards.
“U.S. citizens often depart Kazakhstan for medical treatment, including many routine procedures. Serious long-term care is not a viable option in Nur-Sultan.”

An Ambassador’s Town Hall Meeting

Last Friday, a U.S. Ambassador at a post in South Central Asia held a town hall for embassy employees; held outdoors on the steps of the Embassy, we were told. 
The U.S. Ambassador, citing what he was told by the top SCA bureau official, informed embassy employees the following (provided to us in direct quotes by Sender A):
  • “Ambassador, you need to understand the United States is the red zone, it is not the safe haven that you think it is.”
  • “The U.S. has the highest number of COVID-19 cases per capita in the world.”
  • “It has not peaked in the United States, incidents are rising rapidly, it is out of control.”
  • “The ability to get a test for COVID-19 even with symptoms or comorbidities is extremely difficult.”
  • “The healthcare infrastructure of the United States is not capable of helping.”
This ambassador reportedly further told embassy employees that “500,000 Americans are overseas seeking assistance for getting home.” And that “We are taking down the American economy to fight this enemy.”

(March 25 Special Briefing with CA PDAS Ian Brownlee: “Our posts around the world have received requests for assistance with getting back to the United States from over 50,000 U.S. citizens and we’re committed to bring home as many Americans as we possibly can.”  Wowow!

Continue reading

Tracking COVID-19 Cases at State Department and Foreign Service Posts (Updated)

Updated: March 22, 9:41 PDT

To-date, the State Department has not been forthcoming about COVID-19 cases among employees and family members.  Except for Pompeo’s quip at a presser on March 17  “We’ve had a couple of employees – count them on one hand – who have positive tests” we don’t have any idea how many employees and family members have actually been infected, how many have recovered from the virus, or even how many were tested, or how many have been medically evacuated for COVID-19. The total number we have heard is significantly higher than the one we have below.
On US Mission Geneva cases, we learned of two confirmed positive cases on March 13. Today, we learned from a second source that there are three confirmed COVID-19 cases at post.
Unlike State, DOD has been able to provide regular updates on its COVID-19 cases.  According to DOD, as of 7 p.m. on March 19, the U.S. Army has 45 cases of COVID-19, including 21 soldiers, six civilians, eight family members and 10 contractors.
We’re calling on the State Department to provide similar updates on COVID-19 status of personnel and family members.
Below is our effort to put together a public list of posts and cases as well as posts under quarantined around the Foreign Service. This is not an exhaustive list and we hope to update this as we learn more. Except for cases confirmed by host government or by an FS post’s public statement, all cases listed below came via tips and blog sources.
We have not asked the State Department to officially confirm the numbers below as it has a standing policy of not responding to this blog. However, since we are in a pandemic, if the State Department would like to give us or reporters covering Foggy Bottom an official count, we would be happy to update these numbers.

COVID19 TRACKER

STATE DEPARTMENT

FOREIGN SERVICE POSTS

Updated: March 22, 2020

COUNTRY POST

STATUS

REMARKS
Burkina Faso Ouagadougou 1+ (AMB) Confirmed 3/22/2020
Via Twitter
Burkina Faso Ouagadougou UNK (staffers) Quarantined
Affected staffers
Via Twitter
Jamaica Kingston 1 (FSN) Individual return from the UK

Confirmed by GOJ

Kingston 14 (staffers) Self-Quarantined
/Post statement
Switzerland USMission Geneva 1 (USDH) Internal source
USMission Geneva 1 (FSN) Internal source
US Mission Geneva 1 (UNK) Internal source
South Africa Pretoria 1 (AMB + family) Self-quarantined

Via Twitter

Israel Tel Aviv Staffers (UNK) Self-Quarantined due to infected visa applicant
/Post statement
Spain Madrid 6 (staffers and family members Internal source
/Unconfirmed
Afghanistan Kabul 1(UNK) External source
/Unconfirmed 
Democratic Republic of Congo Kinshasa 1 (UNK) Internal source
/Unconfirmed
Pakistan Islamabad 1+ (UNK) Confirmed
/2 unofficial sources
Islamabad 1 (UNK) Suspected Case
/1 unofficial source
Islamabad 10 (UNK) Under quarantined

DOMESTIC

HQ CA/CST – SA-17

1

Confirmed

Via Twitter

HQ M/FSI

1 (FSN)

Internal source

 

Secretary of “Deep State Department” Michael R. Pompeo Performs During COVID-19 WH Briefing. Please Clap.

 

 

COVID-19 Pandemic Howler: “No one in DC, to include S, gives AF about AF”

Update 1:14 PDT: US Embassy Pretoria’s meltdown (see below)

We’ve explained previously about evacuations in the State Department’s Foreign Service posts (see New Travel Advisories and Voluntary/Mandatory Departures: Micronesia (L3), Tajikistan (L3), Mongolia (L4)).
Authorized departure is an evacuation procedure, short of ordered departure, by which post employees and/or eligible family members are permitted to leave post in advance of normal rotation when U.S. national interests or imminent threat to life requires it. Departure is requested by the chief of mission (COM) and approved by the Under Secretary for Management (M). The incumbent to this office is Brian Bulatao.
Ordered departure is an evacuation procedure by which the number of U.S. government employees, eligible family members, or both, at a Foreign Service post is reduced. Ordered departure is mandatory and may be initiated by the chief of mission or the Secretary of State. Posts with very few exceptions, report to their regional or geographic bureaus headed respectively by an Assistant Secretary, a Senate confirmed position.
As we’ve watched this pandemic unfold at home, we’ve also watched the State Department’s troubling response to it, particularly at overseas posts and in its public communication.
Update: On March 20, US Ambassador to South Africa Lana Marks reportedly held a “town hall” meeting for staff members “after mounting complaints from employees that she had refused to self-quarantine or take other protective measures, according to accounts of the meeting provided to The Washington Post by people familiar with it.” She apparently “attended a dinner at President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club with Brazilian officials who later tested positive for the novel coronavirus. But she told her State Department employees she did not consider herself at risk because the dinner was outside and she believed the virus could not withstand the Florida heat.” A second hand source with extensive sources told us “Embassy Pretoria is in meltdown.”
Recently, we heard about Post 1 in Africa that just went into ordered departure. We understand that employees were hoping to get on to what is being called “the last Air France flight.” We were told that what happens if/after they arrive in Paris is “unknown.”  
Then we received a howler from Post 2 in Africa:  They’ve shut the airport here. And closed the borders in [XXX]. No one gives AF about AF. Authorized Departure, yes. But flights were full or cancelled so that didn’t leave much room for options. No one in DC, to include S, gives AF about AF.”
We understand that this particular post was given the option to evacuate but “there’s no consensus” from the AF bureau if they’re going to authorize “ordered departure.” Post has sent a request but no response from D.C. — “they’re dragging their feet.”
Source from Post 2 says that they were given a 24-hour window for voluntary departure but then the border to [the neighboring country] had closed as well, and that also cuts off supplies for their host country.
“And as you know, people get crazy if they can’t get food or supplies.”
Source from Post 2 further writes “I don’t know how many more EACs and thresholds they want to cross before they say you’re on OD [ordered departure]. And – we are on staggered shifts so teleworking and not really getting anything done.”
Post 2 also says that “A lot of us are worried because of the optics on a lot of the confirmed cases on the continent – they’re all foreigners.” That’s a real worry given what’s happening in Ethiopia and Cameroon. 
On March 18, the US Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia issued a Security Alert on Reports of Anti-Foreigner Sentiment:
The Embassy continues to receive reports regarding a rise in anti-foreigner sentiment revolving around the announcement of COVID-19 in Ethiopia. Typical derogatory comments directed at foreigners, the terms “China” and “Ferengi” (foreigner), have been reportedly coupled with the label “Corona,” indicating a disparaging view on the link between the outbreak of COVID-19 and foreigners in Ethiopia. Incidents of harassment and assault directly related to COVID-19 have been reported by other foreigners living within Addis Ababa and other cities throughout the country. Reports indicate that foreigners have been attacked with stones, denied transportation services (taxis, Ride, etc.), being spat on, chased on foot, and been accused of being infected with COVID-19.”
On March 19, the US Embassy in Cameroon issued a similar Security Alert:
The Embassy has received reports regarding a rise of anti-foreigner sentiment revolving around the announcement of the spread of COVID-19.  Incidents of harassment and assault directly related to COVID-19 have been reported by U.S. citizens and other foreigners in both Yaounde and Douala.  Reports include verbal and online harassment, stone throwing, and banging on vehicles occupied by expatriates.
During the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the attack on one of the Ebola Treatment Centers in February 2019 was preceded by a change in public behavior toward the Medicins sans Frontiers (MSF) team. “On February 17, residents began shouting “Ebola, Ebola, Ebola” at the MSF team. Simultaneously, there was a marked drop in suspected cases referred to the ETC. The ETC had been receiving 35 to 40 suspected Ebola cases a week. However, on the day before the attack, only 1 suspected Ebola case was referred, and on the day of the attack, only 2. Rumors about foreigners experimenting on locals, taking organs, and filling the bodies with concrete and Ebola being a fabrication were also circulating.”
Our Post 2 source says that We knew what we signed up for. This is an unprecedented time. But borders and airports closing is a bit of a game changer in these high threat posts. It would be wonderful to know there’s some sort of exit strategy. And there isn’t one when they shut down the borders and airports.”
For now other worries include the civil unrest that may occur if food and supplies are stopped; not having plans in place for medical evacuation if/when it becomes necessary; the fact that these places are austere in medical facilities to take care of their own people let alone handling a car accident or malaria; that the guards are wonderful and in place, but you know, for how long?
There are worst case scenarios that we’re not going to spell out here but we’re sure the AF bureau and all posts in Africa are aware of them. It can’t be that no one has thought about what to do with posts in Africa during a pandemic.
Is there a pandemic plan for FS posts somewhere in Foggy Bottom’s vaults? What are their plans for post operations, repatriation of employees/family members, protection of local employees, or continuity of operations during/after a pandemic. Have they simply brushed off the shelf the Bush Administration’s old ‘stay remain in country/shelter in place’ policy during a pandemic without telling anyone?

State/CA: Hundreds of American Travelers Stuck Overseas Due to COVID19 Travel Restrictions

 

Pompeo’s COVID-19 Response in the News, Plus March 17 Remarks in Word Cloud

 

Via Pompeo’s Remarks to the Media in the Press Briefing Room, March 17, 2020, where he took three questions, and did not really address COVID-19 related questions:
— If anyone in this building or in the diplomatic corps overseas has tested positive for the virus, what you’re doing for those employees.  And then at our embassies overseas, are we ramping up medical facilities?  What is the plan to treat Americans in those countries since a lot of the flights have been canceled, the borders are closed?  Are they getting sent testing kits?  How is any of that working? —
Except to say “So I don’t want to spend too much time talking about the intricacies of what the State Department’s doing.  It is a rapidly evolving situation” and “We’ve had a couple of employees – count them on one hand – who have positive tests.” and that’s pretty much it; a remark by a public official missing in details, given he’s the head of over 75,000 people across the globe.

Burn Bag: Department of Swagger’s Foreign Affairs Day Merges With Retirement Ceremony

 

Via Burn Bag:
“Foreign Affairs Day (formerly Foreign Service Day) approaches, and the Department of Swagger is doing all it can to diminish it.  It has been merged with the annual Retirement Ceremony and truncated to end after the 8th Floor lunch.  Director of Talent Management Perez is the senior participant (i.e. no 7th Floor participant), the AFSA Plaque Ceremony has been moved to mid-morning (but FAD attendees are only allowed to watch on B-Net), and the bureau briefings have been cut back to a single session.  Annual parking snafu at Kennedy Center continues — attendees are told to show invitation to get “special” $15 rate; normal daytime rate is $14.”

White Cat Wondering What’s Going On. Photo by Pixabay

US-Taliban Inks Deal, Afghanistan Bolts Over Prisoners Release, Taliban Attacks Resume #72Hours

 

 

NOTE: Right hand photo below is posted on state.gov’s Flickr account here but Taliban negotiator Stanikzai was not identified. Caption only says “Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo participates in a signing ceremony in Doha, Qatar, on February 29, 2020. [State Department photo by Ron Przysucha/ Public Domain]”.

 

Travels With Mike and Susan: Munich, Dakar, Luanda, Addis Ababa, Riyadh, Muscat

 

Muscat, Oman

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Luanda, Angola

Dakar, Senegal

Munich, Germany