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Authorised voluntary departures by US Embassy staff’s kin from India: State Department

US Capitol building. Photo: Pixabay

Washington, Apr 30 (MNN) The US has maintained that the departure of families of US government personnel posted at the US Embassy and four Consulates in India was an “authorised voluntary one”.

“Out of an abundance of caution, the Department of State authorised the voluntary departure, so-called authorised departure, of family members of the US Embassy in New Delhi and the Consulates throughout the country. Authorised departure doesn’t force anyone to leave; it doesn’t require anyone to leave. It gives these family members the option to depart if they wish. Departure, again, is not required,” State Department Spokesperson Ned Price told a press briefing.

The US official also said that it was not true that revised guidance to private American citizens in India were presented. “That is not true. There was a pro forma re-issuance of the travel advisory, the Level-4 travel advisory that had previously been in effect, given COVID not only in India but also globally as well,” he added.

Asked if the US administration was considering stopping all flights from India to the US in coming days or weeks, Price pointed out that the State Department had adopted the CDC framework on travel advisories. “That’s why many countries – I believe 80 per cent of countries around the world – are now at Level-4 travel advisories.

“My understanding is that commercial travel continues, commercial flights continue to take off and land in India. When it comes to any travel restrictions, it is something determined in close coordination and under the advice of public health professionals at CDC and HHS.”

He said that visit by a CDC team of officials to the US Embassy in Delhi should be done as soon as possible.

Asked if the people were taking advantage of the US advisory, Price said that that the safety and health of US Embassy employees and their families was a priority and that was the reason they were given the option to depart India if they so wished.

As for any update on how many Embassy staff was infected with coronavirus or the fatalities and what was done to protect them, he responded: “Numbers are difficult for us to offer publicly, given the privacy concerns… while I can’t offer any specifics on US Embassy employees or family members or locally employed staff, clearly this is a pandemic; an outbreak, a surge of cases in India that has left no part of the country untouched.”

On whether there was a delay in getting vaccines to the Embassy in India, he said that the US diplomatic missions around the world had access to the vaccines. “The vaccines were available for several weeks now. But obviously, with any global distribution effort, it’s a complex undertaking… not a single vaccine dose was lost – nearly 2,00,000 doses worldwide, including to our mission in India.”

Asked that posts critical of the Modi government were removed internally in India from Twitter and other social media outlets, Price said that freedom of expression and freedom of information is a hallmark of any democracy.

Queried on the use of the tool of freedom of expression or the social media to incite violence against the government or disturb law and order, the State Department official said that the US was opposed to hate speech, and incitement to violence everywhere.

“But clearly, we support freedom of expression, while still calling out and condemning when we see incitement to violence and hate speech.”

About the US assessment of the pandemic situation in India, which was the worst coronavirus outbreak in the world, he said the daily case count was “very concerning”.

“Since the start of this outbreak, prior to the recent assistance that we just announced, the US had delivered some 19 million dollars in support to India’s public health system.”

He said that not only the Indian and US governments, but everyone had a role to play, including the private sector, civil society etc.

On India-US relations in the first 100 days of the Biden administration, Price said that there’s been a concerted focus on India.

“President Biden, of course, did make mention of India in his address last night. And I think you can look at that deep partnership and commitment to partnership through any number of lenses.

Pointing to various exchanges between leaders of both the nations, he said: “We have engaged with India in the multilateral context as well, through the Quad, both at the ministerial level and for the first time ever at the leader level. I’ve mentioned our climate cooperation, but also our health cooperation. And this was something that predates the pandemic; but it is something that intensified with the onset of the pandemic and intensified even further with the uptick in cases.”

He said it was an engagement that reflected the US global comprehensive partnership.

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