World / Science & Health

U.S. airline group to meet with health officials on Ebola


A U.S. airlines trade group said it would meet with health and safety officials on Monday to discuss whether additional screenings for Ebola could improve on measures already in place to contain the spread of the deadly virus.

The meeting will consider whether adding screenings anywhere in the world might help, Victoria Day, a spokeswoman for the Washington-based group Airlines for America, said on Monday.

Airlines for America “members that fly to affected countries remain in steady contact with government agencies and health officials, and have procedures in place to monitor and quickly respond to potential health concerns,” Day said in a statement.

At a daily news briefing, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said, “What we’re looking to do is review these screening measures.”

American officials have said they would consider new ways to curb the worst outbreak of the disease on record after the first case of Ebola was detected in the United States last week.

The patient, Thomas Eric Duncan, flew from Liberia — the country hardest hit by the West African epidemic — before developing symptoms. He remained in critical condition in a Dallas hospital on Monday.

Along with Liberia, Ebola has wreaked havoc in Sierra Leone and Guinea. It has also spread to Nigeria and Senegal but is considered contained in those countries. In all, the virus has killed at least 3,439 people out of 7,492 confirmed, probable and suspected cases.

Officials do not want to impede transport systems used to send supplies and personnel to West Africa to fight Ebola, Earnest said.

Top health officials have warned that highly restrictive measures, including a travel ban, could hamper efforts to contain the outbreak in West Africa. The Obama administration said on Monday that it had no plans to prohibit visitors from countries ravaged by Ebola from entering the United States.

Some, including Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, have called for a ban on all flights to the United States from countries with Ebola outbreaks.

Several health experts and lawmakers have asked the administration to consider enhancing U.S. airport and customs screenings, including checking travelers using handheld fever scanners

In the past, U.S. courts have deferred to airport officials on screenings, even when passenger rights have been at issue.

In 2010, privacy advocates sued to block the use of advanced imaging technology at airports. But a federal appeals court in Washington ruled that security officials could use the technology. The court said the need to ensure public safety outweighed individual privacy, especially because passenger images were deleted as soon as a passenger was cleared.

Concern among investors that Ebola might discourage people from traveling in part caused airline share prices worldwide to fall 4 percent in September, according to the International Air Transport Association.

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