A positive Covid-19 test result among US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s travelling party has cut short his first official tour of South-East Asia.
A member of the press accompanying Mr 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.
That forced Mr Blinken to abandon the schedule at his next and last stop in Bangkok, and return to the US.
Instead of spending Wednesday night in Bangkok, he flew to the Thai capital for a brief logistical layover before travelling 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 Mr 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.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said Mr 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," Mr Price said.
"He explained that in order to mitigate the risk of the spread of Covid-19 and to prioritise the health and safety of the US travelling party and those they would otherwise come into contact with, the secretary would be returning to Washington, DC out of an abundance of caution."
Mr Blinken, his senior staff and other members of the press have not tested positive so far, Mr Price said.
The US Eembassy in Kuala Lumpur said it informed the Malaysian government of the virus case and thanked Malaysian authorities for their support.
“The sole member of the travelling 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 programme in Kuala Lumpur.”
Mr Blinken arrived in Kuala Lumpur late on Tuesday from Jakarta, Indonesia. He began his journey in the English city of Liverpool, where he took part in a Group of Seven foreign ministers meeting at the weekend.
The State Department has been testing those on Mr Blinken’s plane each day, and Mr Price said the journalist tested negative in Liverpool and Jakarta.