The United States has allowed the voluntary departure of families of its diplomats at missions in India “out of an abundance of caution” as it has extended the “Do not travel” advisory for India in view of the Covid-19 epidemic, the state department spokesperson said Thursday.
Spokesperson Ned Price insisted, however, that the authorised departure is voluntary and not mandatory.
“Out of an abundance of caution, the Department of State authorised the voluntary departure, so-called authorised departure, of family members of embassy – at the US Embassy in New Delhi and the consulates throughout the country,” Price said at a news briefing.
“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.”
The United States has also extended the Level 4 “Do not travel” advisory, which Price said, was a “pro forma re-issuance” of a previously issued advisory that had “been in effect, given Covid not only in India but globally as well”.
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Price refused to share details of reports of US embassy staff contracting Covid-19. CNN has reported citing sources that there has been a major outbreak at US missions in India. Two locally employed staff members have died and more than 100 tested positive.
“It is fair to say that Covid has touched every – just about every element of Indian society, and of course, we do have a large diplomatic presence in India, as you might expect, given our global comprehensive partnership with India,” Price said, adding, “So while I can’t offer any specifics on US embassy employees or family members or locally employed staff, clearly this is a pandemic; this is an outbreak, a surge of cases in India that has left no part of the country untouched.”
Asked about the removal and blocking of social media posts critical of the Indian government over the second wave of Covid-19 epidemic, Price said, “Of course, India is a large democracy with whom we share foundational values, and freedom of information, freedom of expression is something we support around the world.”
Pushed back by a reporter who asked if freedom of expression and information extended to social media posts that incited violence, the state department spokesperson said that “hate speech, incitement to violence is something that we oppose everywhere”.
“But clearly,” he added, “we support freedom of expression, while still calling out and condemning when we see incitement to violence and hate speech.”