Johannesburg - The South African government has no intention of following Zambia’s example and imposing a travel ban on travellers from Ebola-stricken West African countries – at least for now.
Instead, the government will intensify its “extra-cautionary measures” to prevent the spread of the virus into the country.
“The World Health Organisation (WHO) has not recommended any travel or trade restrictions and we are guided by that. However, we will continue to monitor the situation in West Africa and screen people entering South Africa,” Joe Maila, spokesperson for the Ministry of Health, said on Sunday.
The WHO announced last Friday after its emergency meeting that the Ebola outbreak in West Africa constituted an “extraordinary event” and a public health risk to other countries.
The body said about 1 070 cases of Ebola had been confirmed since last Monday, making it the “the largest outbreak recorded”.
The organisation said, however, that “there should be no general ban on international travel or trade” on affected countries.
At the weekend, the Zambian government announced that it had decided to ban travellers from Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Guinea – the countries hardest hit by the Ebola virus.
Zambia had also resolved to prohibit its own citizens from travelling to these countries, its government said.
“All delegates from any of the countries affected by Ebola are restricted from entering Zambia until further notice,” said Joseph Katema, Zambia’s minister of health.
The hardline declaration also applies to delegates attending international conferences already scheduled in the southern African nation.
“The ministry is advising against the holding of all international events that lead to mass gatherings,” Katema said.
Zambia is the second country in Africa, after Ghana, to restrict travel to the infected countries.
Department of Home Affairs spokesman Mayihlome Tshwete referred all inquiries to Maila.
Maila said South Africa would not follow Zambia’s route now, but did not rule out that possibility in future.
“We are watching everything, the developments around Ebola, with keen interest and taking the necessary precautions,” he said yesterday.
“As we go along, we will see what other measures will be taken,” he added.
The WHO also resolved that countries should be “prepared to detect, investigate and manage Ebola cases (and that) this should include assured access to a qualified diagnostic laboratory”.
Maila said the priority was to ensure that South Africa was safe from the outbreak.
“Since the outbreak (of Ebola), we have been ensuring that people coming from there are checked. The screening becomes our priority.
“There is no case of Ebola in South Africa and, therefore, South Africans should not panic,” he reassured.
But Maila still cautioned South Africans against travelling to the Ebola-ravaged countries.
He recommended that if South African nationals wanted to travel to the area, they should try to postpone their journey.
“Our view is that if they can postpone, the better. You can’t just go (there) on holidays.”
Maila appealed to people to desist from causing panic about Ebola on social media sites.
“People must stop this thing of playing on social media to suggest that there is Ebola in South Africa. There is not and it’s extremely irresponsible.”
Airports are prepared
SA Civil Aviation Authority (Sacaa) spokesperson Kabelo Ledwaba on the industry’s preparedness for Ebola:
“Sacaa has legislation in place that ensures that there is an aviation-specific pandemic preparedness plan in order to deal with any outbreak.
“South Africa is capable of dealing with communicable diseases.
“Sacaa has identified airports that could be regarded as ‘high risk’. These are OR Tambo International, Lanseria, Cape Town International, King Shaka International and Kruger Mpumalanga International.
“All these airports have an airports emergency plan for communicable diseases.
“As part of its oversight role, Sacaa uses a master surveillance plan for airports and airlines. In addition, Sacaa has identified and intensified its oversight auditing and training activities for airlines and aviation operators flying to and from West Africa.
“The national Department of Health has thermal scanners at some local airports. Types of screening procedures that can be used by airport authorities include questionnaires, visual inspection and thermal scanners.
“In addition, some airports have quarantine rooms for isolated cases.”