wednesday, 29 october of 2014

Australia prompts outrage by becoming first Western country to ban visitors from Ebola-hit areas of Africa

Australia has prompted outrage by becoming the first Western country to ban visitors from Ebola-hit areas of Africa, amid warnings the restrictions could make it harder to fight the deadly disease.

In a dramatic move announced today, the government said it would refuse entry to anyone travelling from Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leona - the countries most severely hit by the epidemic - despite there being no known cases of the virus in Australia.

But a Sierra Leone official condemned the ban, describing it as 'counter-productive' and 'too draconian'.

Liberia's president urged Australia to reconsider its decision, while UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned travel restrictions could seriously hamper efforts to beat Ebola.

The unprecedented moves comes amid calls from Republicans for a travel ban to be imposed in the U.S - something which has so far been resisted by Barack Obama.

Announcing the decision, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison told Parliament the government's processes were 'working to protect Australians'.

Under the strict regime, Australia will not issue new visas and will cancel temporary ones. Those with permanent Australian visas yet to arrive in the country will only be allowed to fly after a 21-day quarantine before their departure.

Mr Morrison also announced the government would be suspending its humanitarian programme in the affected countries.

Ebola has killed almost half of more than 10,000 people who have been diagnosed with the disease. The World Health Organisation has warned the actual death toll is a lot higher.

But public health officials have urged against travel bans, warning it could leave the stricken countries further isolated from international aid.

They also warn it would not entirely prevent people in Ebola-hit areas from entering other countries.

Alpha Kanu, Sierra Leone's information minister, said today that Australia's move was 'too draconian'.

He said that measures at Sierra Leone's Freetown airport had successfully prevented anyone flying out of the country with Ebola.

He said: 'It is discriminatory in that...it is not (going) after Ebola but rather it is ... against the 24 million citizens of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. Certainly, it is not the right way to go.

'This measure by the Australian government is absolutely counterproductive.'

Anthony Banbury, head of the U.N. Ebola Emergency Response Mission (UNMEER), added: 'Anything that will dissuade foreign trained personnel from coming here to West Africa and joining us on the frontline to fight the fight would be very, very unfortunate.'

Australian Medical Association (AMA) president Brian Owler also told CNN: 'It's not necessarily a very well-focused decision.

'The bigger picture needs to be on our preparedness at home but more importantly our involvement in West Africa itself, putting doctors and nurses and other logistical elements in place and trying to combat the crisis there.'

After the annoucement, Liberia's President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf urged Australia to reconsider its travel ban.

She said: 'Anytime there's stigmatisation, there's quarantine, there's exclusion of people, many of whom are just normal, then those of us who are fighting this epidemic, when we face that, we get very sad.'

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has previously refused to send Australian medical teams to help battle the epidemic in West Africa, until it has guarantees that any Australian who becomes infected received adequate medical treatment.

He said he was 'carefully considering' requests from the U.S and Britain to follow their lead and send workers.

Airport checks have identified more than 800 people who entered Australia from West Africa and who could have been in Ebola-stricken areas.

But none have required a hospital visit after arriving.

Meanwhile, the growing paranoia in the U.S. has fuelled calls to impose a travel ban and has become a bone of political contention.

Prominent Republicans have called for a ban, including John Boehner, the House speaker. But Mr Obama reiterated he would not impose a ban, unless advice from experts changed.

There are no direct flights from Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea to the U.S and only a handful of international flights to Europe. People flying out of these countries are screened before they board a plane.

Earlier this week, North Korea announced it was closing its borders to international tourists because of concerns about Ebola.

A travel ban was never adopted in the 2003 SARS outbreak, although it affected about 8,000 people.

(Published by Daily Mail - October 28, 2014)

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