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Blinken cuts Asia trip short because of positive COVID-19 test in travel group

Blinken cuts Asia trip short because of positive COVID-19 test in travel group
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (C) and Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah (R) converse as they arrive for a meeting in Putrajaya, Malaysia, on Wednesday. Photo by Jai Huzaini/Malaysia Ministry of Foreign Affairs/EPA-EFE

Dec. 15 (UPI) -- U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken cut short the rest of his Southeast Asia tour on Wednesday after a member of the press traveling with him tested positive for COVID-19.

The change forces Blinken to skip his trip to Thailand and Hawaii. The U.S. Embassy in Kuala Lumpur informed the Malaysian government about the positive test Wednesday.

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"The sole member of the traveling party who tested positive is observing all requirements of the Ministry of Health," the embassy said in a statement. "We can confirm that the person was not involved and has not participated in any of Secretary Blinken's programs in Kuala Lumpur.

"We confirm all other members of the party tested negative for COVID-19 upon arrival in Malaysia."

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Secretary of State spokesman Ned Price said Blinken spoke to Thai Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai via phone after the cancellation.

"The secretary expressed his deep regret to the foreign minister that he would not be able to visit Bangkok this week," Price said in a statement. "The secretary extended an invitation for the foreign minister to visit Washington, D.C. at the earliest opportunity and noted that he looked forward to traveling to Thailand as soon as possible."

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Earlier Wednesday, Blinken met with Malaysian Prime Minister Dato' Sri Ismail Sabri bin Yaakob in Kuala Lumpur.

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"The two leaders discussed the strong U.S.-Malaysia bilateral relationship rooted in security, economic prosperity and people-to-people ties," Price said in a statement. "The secretary and the prime minister also discussed their desire to strengthen cooperation, including on COVID-19 recovery and pandemic preparedness."

Blinken also made a speech at the Malaysia Energy Transition Roundtable on the importance of clean energy transition and the urgency presented by climate change.

"This work is so important because one of the things we know and we feel almost every day is that the climate crisis is not some challenge in the distant future," Blinken said in the address. "It's here now. Every country on Earth is feeling its effects.

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"Malaysia, for example, has had extreme thunderstorms and flooding on the east coast during the monsoon season. And of course, we've had our own experiences in the United States with the immediate effects of climate change."

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