Ross Wilson, America’s top diplomat in Afghanistan who was evacuated from Kabul in one of the country’s last rescue flights, tested positive for the coronavirus, said media reports on Wednesday.
Mr Wilson, who was the chargé d’affaires of the US embassy in Kabul, has very mild, cold-like symptoms. He was reportedly one of the first people in the embassy to get vaccinated in January and “requested others get vaccinated as soon as the vaccines became available,” reported Politico.
The top diplomat was evacuated from the embassy to the Kabul airport on 15 August, the day when the Taliban fighters stormed into the capital and took control of the country.
He reportedly spent his last days in Afghanistan at the Hamid Karzai International airport, helping evacuate American citizens and Afghan allies.
The diplomat had on Monday left the country on the last C-17 Globemaster plane, along with Chris Donahue, the very last US army soldier in the country. Washington ended its 20-year-long war in Afghanistan on 31 August, following the hasty withdrawal of troops from the country.
Secretary of state Antony Blinken said Mr Wilson did “exceptional, courageous work during a highly challenging time.” The diplomat had come out of retirement to serve as the acting ambassador to Afghanistan in January 2020.
In his four-decade-long career, Mr Wilson has served as the ambassador to Azerbaijan, Turkey, Russia, Australia, Georgia and the Czech Republic.
On Tuesday, Mr Blinken shared a photograph of the diplomat and his colleagues on the Kabul tarmac without masks.
My deepest thanks to @USAmbKabul Wilson, Amb. Bass, and the @USEmbassyKabul team for their exceptional and courageous service bringing so many to safety. I'm confident their skills and dedication will continue to advance our consular work and diplomacy as a new chapter begins. pic.twitter.com/9ARlhLnRO3
— Secretary Antony Blinken (@SecBlinken) August 31, 2021
Amid the chaotic evacuation process at the airport, the US had eased the requirement of Covid-19 tests for evacuees on “humanitarian grounds.” The tests were conducted once the flights landed in the US and other allied countries.
The healthcare systems of Afghanistan, much like those of its neighbouring countries, have reeled under the highly contagious Delta variant of the virus, with cases rising exponentially amid low testing rates.
The Afghan health ministry under the Ashraf Ghani government had in June said half the Covid cases in the country were related to the Delta variant. At that time, the positivity rate in the county stood at 33 per cent.
A major Covid outbreak was reported at the US embassy in Kabul where at least 159 tested positive for the virus. Some of the staff had to be put on oxygen support or get medically evacuated.
The UN has claimed that following the Taliban takeover, the vaccination rate in Afghanistan dropped by 80 per cent. Around two million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine are likely to expire in November, a UNICEF spokesperson told news agency Reuters.
According to the World Health Organisation, as of 30 August, only 1,979,652 doses of vaccines against the coronavirus have been administered in Afghanistan.