COVID blocks Kiir’s road to Qatar

COVID blocks Kiir’s road to Qatar
President Salva Kiir (photo credit: courtesy)

President Salva Kiir’s state visit to the Gulf nation of Qatar has been called off after five members of his advance team tested positive for COVID-19 in Doha.

On Sunday, a high-level government delegation headed by the Presidential Advisor on Security Affairs Tut Gatluak jetted in Doha to lay the preparations for President Kiir’s maiden visit to Qatar. The President was expected to hold a series of bilateral talks with the Qatari leaders.

But after undergoing another COVID-19 test in Doha, five members of the cabinet were found to be COVID-19 positive, media reports revealed.

Yesterday, the City Review contacted the Minister of Presidential Affairs Dr Barnaba Marial Benjamin to know the status of Kiir’s planned visit to Doha after the incident, and Dr Barnaba said the visit had been put on hold but would be rearranged within this month.

“No way, President Kiir is not travelling today, the journey has been put off, maybe we will arrange back within the next ten days or after sometimes,” Dr Barnaba told The City Review in an exclusive interview yesterday.

He said the postponement came from the sorrowful COVID-19 test results that were posted by some members of the advanced team already in Qatar.

Setback

“You know, the advanced team is supposed to be involved in meetings with their Qatari counterparts but now it is not going to take place due to COVID-19 rules, although the Qatari government was already waiting for the arrival of the president,” he added.

“So, we have to wait until our delegation has full meetings that are expected to be done between the two countries, so the postponement was to see all of us are on the table.”

South Sudan and Qatari governments were supposed to engage in bilateral talks on several issues which include infrastructural development, peace and security and trade among others.

According to the media reports, there were over 40 senior government officials and support staff who flew to Doha for the visit. The group is reportedly under quarantine in hotels in Qatar.

Apart from the head of the delegation, Mr Gatluak, other officials are the Minister of Foreign Affairs Mayiik Ayii, Minister of Finance and Planning Athian Diing Athian, Minister of Investment Dhieu Mathok, Minister of Roads and Bridges Simon Mijok Majak, Minister of Higher Education Gabriel Changson, Minister of Agriculture Josephine Joseph Lagu, the Governor of Central Bank Dier Tong, the Managing Director of Nilepet Chol Deng Thon and Rizik Zacharia, the minister of wildlife.

It is not the first time that a South Sudanese delegation has landed a setback associated with COVID-19 in a foreign trip.

In June 2021, eight Bright Stars football players were reported to have tested positive for COVID-19 ahead of their FIFA Arab Cup Tournament.

In a tweet shared by South Sudan Football Association, the governing body said some Bright Stars team members were confirmed to be having COVID-19 after they had jetted in Qatar’s capital, Doha. 

The team was to prepare for the first match against Jordan. However, due to ineligibility, South Sudan’s participation in the tournament was cancelled and players were subjected to quarantine and points awarded to the opponent. They were only allowed to return home after the 14 days of quarantine.

Kiir’s assignments

Since the year began and the COVID-19 restrictions began to subside, the President has endured a packed diary where his trips have transcended beyond borders as he knocks doors for the bilateral talks.

One of such engagements was a trip to South Africa on April 15, where he met South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa.

The two-day trip remained largely secret with State House only revealing that the head of state was discussing the plans to fully implement the pending chapters of the 2018 revitalised peace agreement.

“President Salva Kiir arrived in Pretoria, South Africa, on 15 April 2021, on an invitation from President Cyril Ramaphosa for bilateral talks. He was received upon arrival at or Tambo International Airport by [South African] Minister of International Relations & Cooperation, Dr Naledi Pandor,” the State House tweeted on Friday after he departed.

Since then, Kiir has visited Ethiopia and Egypt in a bid to cement the regional relationship and foster a positive relationship with the neighbouring countries.

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