Asia, Europe on alert as world Ebola fears grow

AFP-JIJI

Fears that the west African Ebola outbreak could spread to other continents grew Wednesday, with European and Asian countries on alert.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said the crisis gripping Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone will only get worse and warned there is no overarching strategy to handle the world’s worst ever outbreak of the disease.

The U.S. Peace Corps announced Wednesday it was pulling dozens of volunteers from the three countries. Hong Kong announced quarantine measures for suspected cases, although one woman arriving from Africa with possible symptoms tested negative, while the European Union said it was ready to deal with the threat.

Europe is equipped and ready to treat victims should the deadly virus be found in its 28 member states, an EU source said in Brussels.

“We cannot rule out the possibility that an infected person arrives in Europe but the EU has the means to track and contain any outbreak rapidly,” the source said, adding the isolation and negative testing of a suspected case in Valencia, Spain, showed that the “system worked.”

Meanwhile, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has held talks with global health officials on potential measures to halt the spread of the disease.

In Britain, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond chaired the government’s COBRA crisis management committee to assess the situation, although only one person has tested negative for the disease.

“We are very much focused on it as a new and emerging threat which we need to deal with,” Hammond said.

He said the emergency meeting decided that the best approach is to provide “additional resources to deal with the disease at source” in west Africa.

Ebola can kill victims within days, causing severe fever and muscle pain, vomiting, diarrhoea and, in some cases, organ failure and unstoppable bleeding. Since March, there have been 1,201 cases of Ebola and 672 deaths in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, according to the World Health Organization.

“The level of contamination on the ground is extremely worrying and we need to scale up our action before many more lives are lost,” said EU humanitarian aid commissioner Kristalina Georgieva.In Hong Kong, which was previously scarred by outbreaks such as the 2003 SARS epidemic, health officials confirmed they would quarantine as a precautionary measure any visitors from Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia who showed fever symptoms.

Bart Janssens, MSF’s director of operations, warned that governments and global bodies had no “overarching view” vision of how to tackle the outbreak.

“This epidemic is unprecedented, absolutely out of control and the situation can only get worse, because it is still spreading, above all in Liberia and Sierra Leone, in some very important hot spots,” he told La Libre Belgique newspaper. “If the situation does not improve fairly quickly, there is a real risk of new countries being affected.”

In Canada, media reported that a Canadian doctor had put himself in quarantine as a precaution after spending weeks in west Africa treating Ebola patients alongside an American doctor who is now infected.

A spokesman for the French Foreign Ministry said it was offering technical support and expertise on the ground in west Africa, and Liberia announced it was shutting all schools and placing “nonessential” government workers on 30 days’ leave.

Togo-based airline ASKY, which serves 20 destinations, on Tuesday halted all flights to and from Liberia and Sierra Leone following the death of a passenger from the virus. Ebola crossing borders for the first time by plane could lead to new flight restrictions aimed at containing outbreaks.

“Until now (the virus) had not impacted commercial aviation, but now we’re affected,” Raymond Benjamin, secretary-general of ICAO, said. “We will have to act quickly.”