COVID case in Blinken press curtails his Southeast Asia tour

Politics

Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrives at Subang Airport, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021. (Olivier Douliery/Pool via AP)

BANGKOK (AP) — A positive COVID-19 test among U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s traveling party has cut short the top diplomat’s first official tour of Southeast Asia.

A member of the press corps accompanying Blinken on what was to have been a three-nation visit to Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand tested positive for the coronavirus on Wednesday in Kuala Lumpur, forcing Blinken to abandon the program at his next and last stop in Bangkok, and return to the United States.

Instead of spending Wednesday night in Bangkok, Blinken flew to the Thai capital for a brief logistical layover before traveling to Guam to refuel and then continuing on to Hawaii. At the airport in Bangkok, at least two Thai ground crew members were seen wearing full protective gear as they serviced Blinken’s plane.

The abrupt change in plans was caused in part by fears that others in the delegation might also test positive, requiring them to quarantine in Thailand over the Christmas holiday.

The journalist who tested positive will stay in Kuala Lumpur for a mandatory 10-day isolation.

U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said Blinken spoke with Thai Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai to explain the change of plans.

“The secretary expressed his deep regret to the FM that he would not be able to visit Bangkok this week. He explained that in order to mitigate the risk of the spread of COVID-19 and to prioritize the health and safety of the U.S. traveling party and those they would otherwise come into contact with the secretary would be returning to Washington, D.C. out of an abundance of caution,” Price said.

Neither Blinken, any of his senior staff nor other members of the press corps have tested positive so far, according to Price.

In a statement posted online, the U.S Embassy in Kuala Lumpur said it informed the Malaysian government of the virus case and thanked the Malaysian authorities for their support.

“The sole member of the traveling party who tested positive is observing all requirements of the Ministry of Health,” the embassy said. “We can confirm that the person was not involved and has not participated in any of Secretary Blinken’s program in Kuala Lumpur.”

Blinken arrived in Kuala Lumpur late Tuesday from Jakarta, Indonesia. He began his current journey in the English city of Liverpool, where he participated in a Group of Seven foreign ministers meeting over the weekend.

The State Department has been testing those on Blinken’s plane for the virus on a daily basis and Price said the journalist had tested negative in both Liverpool and Jakarta.

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