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Fear grips US diplomats, leave Saudi Arabia as kingdom battles surge in new COVID-19 cases

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The United States diplomats and their families have announced plan to start leaving Saudi Arabia, following a surge in new coronavirus cases. 

According to U.S. officials, who is familiar with the plan, the diplomats are expected take a repatriation flight on Saturday after the State Department last week approved the voluntary departure of nonemergency personnel. 

Saudi Arabia tackled the pandemic with strict measures earlier put in place. The measures helped stem the spread of the virus.

But in a desperate effort to reopen the country's economy, most of the restrictions were lifted last month. 

As of Friday July 3, 2020, total cases surpassed 200,000, up from around 90,000 in late May, second only to Iran in the Middle East. More than 1,800 deaths have beed recorded.

"As the situation deteriorated, the virus also infiltrated the U.S. Embassy in the capital Riyadh.

"At least 30 staff members, mostly non-Americans, have tested positive despite mostly working from home since March," the U.S. officials said. 

A State Department spokeswoman said the ambassador and other senior officials “took all appropriate steps to ensure the safety of Embassy personnel.”

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