The request, according to the sources, has not yet been approved by the State Department, which spoke to DailyExpertNews on condition of anonymity.
An “authorized departure” allows employees and families in the United States embassy and consulates to leave China for a period of time until they feel safe to return, but is not a mandatory evacuation under an “ordered departure.”
China is one of the few places in the world that still adheres to a zero-covid strategy, in which it aims to eradicate all cases within its borders.
Since Omicron’s arrival, authorities have seen several outbreaks across the country, prompting local officials to implement massive testing, strict lockdowns, contact tracing and new restrictions on movement. In some cities, people trapped in rapid lockdowns have been forced to spend days in office buildings and shopping malls until everyone inside tested negative.
Currently, the US diplomatic mission in China has an agreement with the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs to allow parents to stay with minors in case of quarantine. However, there is growing concern that China’s National Health Service may be able to override that deal.
While there have been no incidents of diplomats being separated from their children, the diplomatic source said U.S. officials in China fear that could change amid the spread of the highly contagious Omicron strain, which is affecting the nation’s health care system and hospitals. country could tax.
“People are not afraid of getting sick,” the diplomatic source said. “What has scared people is that Omicron is more contagious and if it were to increase as we have seen in other countries it could lead to even stricter and more unpredictable measures here.
“We don’t question China’s safety in containing Covid, but we do want to avoid throwing people into the system if it gets overrun.”
The US and several other countries have announced a diplomatic boycott of the Games, meaning they will not send government officials to attend the Games, in protest at alleged human rights abuses in China’s western region of Xinjiang.
As of Wednesday, 10 cities in China have reported local Omicron cases, including Shanghai and Beijing.
Since the beginning of the month, 42 people entering the Beijing Olympics bubble, referred to as a “closed loop” by officials, have tested positive — including four Games-related personnel who were already in the loop, officials said Wednesday. . It’s not clear if they were recent arrivals or if there was a local transmission taking place within the closed loop.
A State Department spokesman said the operational status of the US mission in China has not changed.
“Any change in operational status of this nature would be based solely on the health, safety and security of our colleagues and their family members,” the spokesperson added.
If approved, US Mission China expects about 10% to 15% of its roughly 1,000 personnel to leave the country, according to internal polls conducted by the embassy in Beijing, the diplomatic source told DailyExpertNews.
This estimate does not include family members. Staff and families should be allowed to depart on commercial airlines.
Chinese state media, meanwhile, are outraged at news of the “authorized departure” request, accusing the US embassy of “bad intentions” and linking it to what it calls a “series of provocations recently made by the US to try to stop the Olympic Destroy Beijing Winter Games”. Games” – such as the diplomatic boycott announced by Washington.
“Dirty trick again!” shouted a headline in the Global Times, a state-run nationalist tabloid on Wednesday. “Its purpose is not to raise concerns about the coronavirus, but rather to sow public panic, smear China’s performance in fighting the pandemic and disrupt the Beijing Winter Olympics,” the report said.
“What the US wants is that when you prepare for a lucky occasion, it deliberately causes chaos,” said a Chinese analyst.
The last time US diplomats left China because of Covid was during the first outbreak in Wuhan, when the State Department issued an “ordered departure” to diplomats and their families.
New US Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns was sworn in on Tuesday. He is expected to take up the position in the coming months, but his arrival may be delayed due to the recent Covid outbreak, the diplomatic source told DailyExpertNews.