Fri, Jun 08, 2018 - Page 6 News List

US evacuates more staff in China over mysterious illness

AFP, WASHINGTON

A woman walks past the US consulate in Guangzhou, China, yesterday.

Photo: Reuters

The US Department of State has evacuated more staff from China over fears they might have been hit by a mysterious illness that has struck other colleagues in the country and in Cuba.

The department on Wednesday said that “a number of individuals” were sent to the US for further evaluation following initial medical screenings.

A medical team was sent to Guangzhou after a US employee who had experienced strange sounds was diagnosed with brain trauma last month, reviving fears that a US rival has developed some kind of acoustic or microwave device.

US officials have said that the employee’s symptoms were consistent with the ailments that US diplomats experienced in Cuba last year.

After the first incident in Guangzhou, medical tests were offered to US government employees and family members who requested them, the department said.

“The medical screenings are ongoing for any personnel who have noted concerning symptoms or wanted baseline screening,” department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.

“US medical professionals will continue to conduct full evaluations to determine the cause of the reported symptoms and whether the findings are consistent with those noted in previously affected government personnel or possibly completely unrelated,” the statement said.

Last year, 24 US diplomats and their family members in Cuba fell victim to mysterious “attacks” that left them with injuries resembling brain trauma.

Ten Canadian diplomats and their relatives also suffered a strange illness.

Washington has said that Cuban authorities must take responsibility for the safety of US diplomats on their soil, but Havana denies any knowledge of an attack.

The US has set up a task force to oversee the response to the mystery ailments among diplomats in China and Cuba, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday.

The department has said that US diplomats should alert their mission’s medical staff “if they note new onset of symptoms that may have begun in association with experiencing unidentified auditory sensations.”

“Reported symptoms have included dizziness, headaches, tinnitus, fatigue, cognitive issues, visual problems, ear complaints and hearing loss, and difficulty sleeping,” the statement said.

The cases came at a sensitive time in relations between the US and China, with the two nations mired in negotiations aimed at preventing a trade war and exchanging heated rhetoric over Beijing’s claims to the South China Sea.

The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday said that its investigation into the first case has not yielded any clues as to the cause of the incident.

“As for the latest incident, my understanding is that the US side hasn’t had any formal communication with the Chinese side about it,” ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying (華春瑩) said at a regular news briefing.

Beijing learned about the latest cases through a report in the New York Times, she said.

“I think that if there is any problem, the US can communicate with the Chinese side, and China will continue to adopt a responsible attitude and conduct a serious investigation,” Hua said.

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