US to halt work at two consulates in Russia after COVID-19 drawdown

US to halt work at two consulates in Russia after COVID-19 drawdown
The flag of the United States flies outside the US Consulate building in St.Petersburg on March 30, 2018. (File/AFP)
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Updated 19 December 2020

US to halt work at two consulates in Russia after COVID-19 drawdown

US to halt work at two consulates in Russia after COVID-19 drawdown
  • Pompeo in consultation with Ambassador Sullivan decided to shut the consulate in Vladivostok in the far east and suspend operations at the consulate in Yekaterinburg
  • The decision did not affect Russian consulates in the United States

MOSCOW: The United States is halting work at two consulates in Russia, the State Department said, citing safety and security issues at the facilities where operations had been curtailed over COVID-19.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in consultation with Ambassador John Sullivan decided to shut the consulate in Vladivostok in the far east and suspend operations at the consulate in Yekaterinburg, a State Department representative said in a statement emailed to Reuters on Saturday.
The decision, part of “ongoing efforts to ensure the safe and secure operation of the US diplomatic mission in the Russian Federation,” did not affect Russian consulates in the United States, the statement said, without offering detailed reasons for the move.
Asked this week about Russian media reports that the two consulates might be closed, the US embassy in Moscow said it had suspended operations at the Vladivostok consulate and rolled back operations in Yekaterinburg in March because of the pandemic.
US-Russia ties have been strained by issues ranging from conflicts in Syria to Ukraine, as well as allegations of Russian interference in US politics, which Moscow denies.
Hackers believed to be working for Russia are accused of wide-ranging hacks of US government agencies and a private companies. Pompeo said on Friday it was “pretty clearly” evident that Russia was involved in the attacks that have sent computer network security teams worldwide scrambling to limit the damage.
The Kremlin denies Russian involvement.
At his annual news conference on Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he hoped US President-elect Joe Biden would help resolve some of the difficult issues in relations between Moscow and Washington.


Japan’s Okinawa declares coronavirus emergency as cases spike

Japan’s Okinawa declares coronavirus emergency as cases spike
Updated 19 January 2021

Japan’s Okinawa declares coronavirus emergency as cases spike

Japan’s Okinawa declares coronavirus emergency as cases spike
  • The emergency is scheduled to last until Feb. 7
TOKYO: Japan’s southernmost prefecture, Okinawa, declared a state of emergency on Tuesday over the COVID-19 pandemic, as the country grapples with a surge in infections six months before it is set to host the Summer Olympics.
Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki said emergency measures include asking restaurants and bars to close by 8 p.m. and residents to refrain from non-urgent outings after 8 p.m.
The emergency is scheduled to last until Feb. 7.
The national government had already issued a state of emergency for Tokyo and other areas but the southern island, which hosts the bulk of US military forces in Japan, went ahead and declared an emergency of its own after a spike in cases.
The prefecture confirmed 113 cases on Tuesday, its third-highest daily tally on record, public broadcaster NHK reported.
Shizuoka prefecture, home to Mount Fuji, also declared “an emergency alert” of its own on Tuesday after it found cases of a more contagious coronavirus variant, Kyodo News reported.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has vowed to forge ahead with preparations to hold the Olympics this summer, in the face of growing public opposition as COVID-19 cases mount.
Recent polls show around 80 percent of people in Japan believe the Olympics, already postponed by a year because of the pandemic, should not be held this summer, while one of Suga’s cabinet members told Reuters last week the Games may not go ahead as planned.