Although the World Health Organization continues to urge that no travel restrictions be implemented, there are signs that the Ebola affected nations of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone are increasingly being isolated from the rest of the world. The WHO’s most recent statement on the matter reads:
WHO does not recommend any travel or trade restrictions be applied except in cases where individuals have been confirmed or are suspected of being infected with EVD or where individuals have had contact with cases of EVD.
Earlier this week the issue was over airlines refusing to service these countries (see WHO Update – Travel & Transport In Relation To Ebola Outbreak). Today, the South African Cabinet has issued a strict travel ban for non-South Africans coming from these Ebola embattled nations.
The following announcement was posted a short time ago on the South African Government Online website.
21 Aug 2014
The Cabinet met on 20 August 2014 and was presented with an update on the Ebola outbreak in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria by the Minister of Health, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi.
Cabinet noted with concern the extent of the outbreak and the increase of cases in three of these countries, i.e Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, over the last week. Cabinet recognised that even though the outbreak has been limited to these countries in West Africa, the spread to other countries need to be contained. Cabinet recognized that containing the outbreak at source will be essential and limit the spread and mortality caused by the disease to these particular parts of the world.
Cabinet noted that the Department of Health has taken measures in South Africa to enhance surveillance, distribute guidelines to all hospitals in public and private sectors, designate health facilities for the treatment of patients, deployed personal protective equipment (PPE) to designated facilities, conducted training, activated outbreak response teams and is operating a hotline for clinicians through the NICD.
Countries have been divided into three categories, viz
- High risk countries (Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone);
- Medium risk countries (Nigeria, Kenya and Ethiopia). Please note that some of these countries like Kenya and Ethiopia have no Ebola yet, but are mentioned here because most people travelling from West Africa to South Africa travel via these countries;
- Low risk countries (all other countries excluding the above)
For the first category countries, that is the high risk countries, there are four types of travelers likely to enter South Africa i.e.
(a) South Africans based in the affected countries;
(b) People with permanent residence status who may come from affected countries;
(c) South Africans who may be traveling to affected countries to conduct business; and
(d) Citizens of the affected countries who want to travel to South Africa
For all these travellers, Cabinet decided as follows:
- A total travel ban for all non-citizens travelling from these high risk countries, unless the travel is considered absolutely essential;
- For citizens of South Africa who wish to travel to these countries, they will be requested to delay their travel unless it is also absolutely essential for them to travel;
- For South African citizens returning from these countries, they will have to be subjected to a stricter screening process that is as follows:
- Completing a comprehensive health questionnaire before being allowed entry back into the country;
- If the comprehensive medical questionnaire and the temperature screening reveal something, they will have to subject themselves to a complete medical examination
For medium and low risk countries, the normal surveillance that has been going on will just be enhanced.
There is a special category of individuals who are South Africans but work there in the mines, communications, security and retail. For these groups, we have called a special meeting tomorrow (22 August 2014), which will deal with their unique situation.
Cabinet also accepted the Southern African Development Community's (SADC) decision that South Africa be a centre of excellence for training, laboratory diagnosis and clinical expertise.
Cabinet also established an Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) to deal with the coordination of the response. This IMC will consist of the following Departments:
- Department of Health (Convenor);
- Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry;
- National Treasury;
- Departments of Defence and Military Veterans (South African Military Health Service);
- Department of International Relations and Cooperation;
- Department of Transport;
- Department of Home Affairs;
- Department of State Security;
- Department of Tourism
- Department of Basic Education; and
- Department of Sports and Recreation
Cabinet further approved funding requested by the Department of Health to the tune of R32.5 million, from the African Renaissance Fund to support containment and prevent further spread of the virus to South Africa and other countries.
Part of the funds will be used to deploy the mobile laboratory in Sierra Leone, fund transport and accommodation for the team and training for health care workers.
Cabinet remains committed to ensuring the health and wellbeing of all our citizens and requests the public to adhere to limited travel restrictions announced in this briefing.
A travel advisory has also been prepared and copies are available and will be distributed to the media and relevant parties.