As countries around the world prepare to battle a looming second wave of coronavirus infections, many United States diplomats are following hundreds of US citizens repatriated over the past few months.
Dozens of US diplomats, along with their families, have left Saudi Arabia in the past 48 hours as the kingdom struggles to contain the outbreak, just weeks after it reopened its economy, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported on Friday.
More are expected to fly out in the coming weeks, officials familiar with the plan said after the US State Department approved the voluntary departure of “non-emergency personnel”.
Despite Saudi Arabia’s efforts to contain the spread of the virus early on, the number of the cases in the country has surged past 200,000 – up 110,000 from May – according to figures published by the Johns Hopkins University. More than 1,800 people there have died.
The uptick in the number of infections coincided with the kingdom’s move to lift restrictions in a bid to revive its economy, which has suffered from low oil prices.
Going by WSJ, the COVID-19 virus managed to make its way into the US embassy in the capital, Riyadh, infecting at least 30 staff members. US officials said those infected were mostly non-Americans.
Sources added that a global voluntary departure decision by the State Department in March was suspended in May, leaving many diplomats “feeling trapped” amid rising infections.