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Ebola crisis: Gatwick passenger dies and Emirates suspends flights

August 5, 2014 Aviation, Headline News No Comments Email Email

egtmedia59As the crisis surrounding Ebola deepens, Emirates has become the first major airline to impose a ban in response to the outbreak of the deadly viral disease in West Africa.

The Dubai-based airline, a commercial partner of Qantas, has suspended flights to Guinea.

“The safety of our passengers and crew is of the highest priority and will not be compromised,” a statement on the airline’s website said.

Zawya news service in the Gulf reported yesterday that airports in the UAE were adopting a “wait-and-see” position on Ebola, with no travel restrictions or screening protocols in place “so far”.

While the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) are playing down the threat, staff at London’s Gatwick Airport were reported anxious at the weekend when a passenger from Sierra Leone collapsed and died after departing a plane.

The stricken female passenger, said to be aged 72, became ill on the gangway after she left a Gambia Bird jet with 128 passengers aboard. Ebola has killed 256 people in Sierra Leone and the infectious disease kills between 60% and 90% of those who catch it. The doctor leading Sierra Leone’s fight against Ebola died from the virus last week, on 29 July 2014.

Australian High Commission personnel have deferred non-essential travel to Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia as a result of the Ebola outbreak and Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) is advising Australian travellers to do the same.  DFAT has raised its level of advice for Sierra Leone and now advises Australians to reconsider their need to travel there.

The Gambia Bird aircraft was quarantined immediately at London Gatwick after the woman collapsed and Britain’s Daily Mirror newspaper quoted a staff member close to the case saying the woman was “sweating buckets and vomiting” before she died.

The woman’s body was quickly tested and medical authorities issued an all-clear – she was not suffering from Ebola. Despite their initial relief, airport staff are said to be jittery about the disease, which has an incubation period of up to 21 days. It is not contagious during the incubation period, only after symptoms show.

Shortly before the woman’s death, Britain’s Daily Telegraph reported that an asylum seeker was suspected of having the lethal virus, having passed through the same airport, Gatwick, and developed symptoms within days of arriving in Britain from Liberia. He also was later tested and cleared.

Ebola has killed at least 156 people in Liberia and health officials have counted 17 bodies abandoned on the streets of that country’s capital, Monrovia, in recent days.

Concerns about the global spread of Ebola virus disease (EVD) via air travel began when Liberian-American Patrick Sawyer died of the disease in the Nigerian capital of Lagos after flying from Liberia.

Several major airlines and international airports have started health screening passengers on flights from West Africa, acting in line with guidelines from IATA and WHO, though WHO is not recommending travel restrictions or border closures, and  authorities say there would be only a low risk to other passengers if an infected person flew.

Nigeria’s largest airline Arik Air has halted all flights to Liberia and Sierra Leone. African regional carrier Asky has been suspended by Nigeria’s civil aviation authorities for bringing the first Ebola case to Lagos, the country’s largest city. Nigerian authorities now say a doctor in Lagos has contracted Ebola, the city’s second case.

Fear and panic are gripping parts of West Africa. The virus is blamed for killing at least 826 people in the region and it shows no sign of slowing down. There are 1438 cases at last count.

A graphic, interactive Ebola virus timeline, developed by Australia’s ABC to show the steady progress of the latest outbreak, the deadliest ever recorded, can be viewed here.

Written by Peter Needham

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