The Biden administration has temporarily paused flights of Afghan refugees into the United States after four measles cases were discovered among newcomers.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Friday the suspension of flights came at the recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) “out of an abundance of caution”.
“These individuals are being quarantined in accordance with public health guidelines, and the CDC has begun full contact tracing,” Psaki told reporters.
Measles is a highly contagious disease that can be deadly, especially in children. Its spread has slowed down drastically over the past decades because of global mass vaccination.
Psaki said all Afghans arriving in the United States are required to have “critical immunisations”.
“We are also exploring measures to vaccinate people while they are still overseas,” she said.
It is not clear how long the suspension of flights will last. Thousands of Afghans in military bases in Germany, Qatar, Spain and other places are awaiting transfer to the US where they will be vetted before being cleared for resettlement.
US officials have said the country plans to take in 50,000 Afghans out of more than 100,000 evacuated from Afghanistan last month amid the Taliban takeover.
Washington says it is continuing the effort to help American citizens and vulnerable Afghans leave Afghanistan following the US military withdrawal that concluded on August 31.
A second Qatar Airways flight departed from Kabul on Friday after a plane left Afghanistan a day earlier carrying 100 passengers, including foreign nationals.
The Biden administration said Friday’s flight was carrying 19 US citizens.
National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne said two additional US citizens and 11 lawful permanent residents (LPRs) left Afghanistan via land routes on Friday.
“We are continuing intensive work across the US government to facilitate the safe transit of these individuals and other US citizens, LPRs, and Afghans who have worked for us who wish to leave Afghanistan,” Horne said in a statement.
“Because there is an ongoing terrorist threat to operations of this nature, we will not be sharing details of these efforts before people are safely out of the country.”
On Thursday, Horne confirmed coordination with the Taliban on facilitating the departure of the first flight. “They have shown flexibility, and they have been businesslike and professional in our dealings with them in this effort. This is a positive first step,” she said of the group.
Earlier this week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on the Taliban to live up to its commitment to “allow foreign nationals, visa holders, and Afghans to travel outside the country if they wish”.