NATO prepares 'virus-free' zone for summit; Biden invited

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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, right, and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg arrive to give remarks prior to a NATO foreign ministers meeting at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Tuesday, March 23, 2021. (Yves Herman, Pool via AP)

BRUSSELS – Since the coronavirus started spreading through Europe over a year ago, NATO's headquarters in Brussels has been off-limits to the media and others, but the military alliance now aims to get ahead of Belgium's vaccine program and have its staff guaranteed to be “virus-free” for a summit in June.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his NATO counterparts are meeting Tuesday in person at the 30-country organization’s headquarters to prepare the summit of national leaders, including President Joe Biden. It’s the first face-to-face meeting of foreign ministers at NATO since 2019.

The European Union, in contrast, called off an in-person summit in Brussels as virus cases spike and will now meet this week by videoconference. Belgium’s health authorities have said the country stands “at the foot of a third wave” of infections unless restrictions are strictly respected.

Across town at NATO on Thursday, around 20 Polish medical personnel will begin inoculating some of the estimated 4,000 people who work at the military alliance’s headquarters against COVID-19.

They plan to administer around 3,500 AstraZeneca vaccines.

Before the foreign minsters’ meeting he will chair, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg praised Poland as “a highly valued ally” that is helping “to support NATO, to manage the consequences of the pandemic.”

“This is a joint fight, and we are stronger together. And of course, the vaccines will help and support our work here at the headquarters of NATO,” Stoltenberg said.

Asked for details, NATO said the offer is available to all headquarters staff, including people working at the 30 national delegations. It didn't reply to questions as to why a vaccination campaign is needed and why people working at NATO should have priority for shots.