The U.S. Air Force said two crews supporting Blinken’s trip abroad tested positive


© Reuters. PHOTO: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken Arrives at Subang Airport, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, December 14, 2021 Olivier Douliery / Pool via REUTERS

Author: Phil Stewart

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Two U.S. Air Force crew members supporting last week’s U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s trip to the United Kingdom and Southeast Asia are positive for coronavirus, an air force spokesman said.

The new cases, which were not previously detected, increase the total number of COVID-19-positive people who traveled on Blinken’s plane last week to three. On Wednesday, the State Department announced that was one member of the press corps that accompanied the top American diplomat on the trip was also positive.

The Air Force did not say when or at which station of Blinken’s trip the crew members were positive. The journalist was identified as a positive case late Tuesday, after being tested upon arrival in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, where the person is still in isolation.

“Both aircrew members were fully vaccinated. Neither came into close contact with the secretary of state or senior staff,” an air force spokesman told Reuters in an email late Friday. “One flight crew member is asymptomatic, while the other has mild symptoms.”

“Both are following host country protocols for COVID-19,” a spokesman said, noting that people were dropped from the plane at the site where they were identified as positive cases.

Earlier this week, Blinken had to suspend his trip to Southeast Asia after the State Department revealed a member of his traveling journalist corps was positive. Blinken visited Indonesia on Monday, but after a journalist tested positive for COVID, Blinken interrupted the last leg of the trip and returned to Washington without a trip to Thailand.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said Wednesday: “Blinken and his senior staff” were negative after a positive case among reporters. However, Price’s statement made no mention of others traveling by plane with Blinken.

Asked on Saturday about the two crew members, a State Department spokesman did not comment directly on them in a statement. “As far as detection is concerned, as is standard for contact tracking and in line with CDC guidelines, we inform close contacts of positive cases,” the agency said.

Blinken’s trip to Southeast Asia was the first in the region since President Joe Biden took office in January.

The Biden administration sought to strengthen ties with the region, which became uncertain about U.S. commitment during a period of perceived neglect under former President Donald Trump.

China has expanded its influence in Southeast Asia, fostering investment and trade integration, at a time when Trump withdrew from a U.S.-inspired Pacific Trade Pact that sought to challenge Beijing’s economic influence.

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