Travel ban for Ebola risk countries

Ebola virus
Ebola virus

Growing concern over the incidence of the Ebola virus and the increase of cases in the three countries considered to be high risk, i.e Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, over the last week has prompted the South African government to take action. In a statement issued today, Cabinet says that containing the outbreak at source will be essential to limit the spread and mortality caused by the disease to these particular parts of the world. They announced important steps to try and manage the risk of the Ebola virus, which include a total travel ban for all non-citizens travelling from high risk countries, unless the travel is considered absolutely essential.

While they have recognised the outbreak of the Ebola virus has been limited to these countries in West Africa, the spread to other countries need to be contained.

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, a special meeting will be held on 22 August 2014 to deal with their unique situation.

Cabinet supports the Southern African Development Community’s (SADC) decision that South Africa be a centre of excellence for training, laboratory diagnosis and clinical expertise. They have also established an Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) to deal with the coordination of the response and the funding requested by the Department of Health to the tune of R32.5 million, has been approved.

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.

The statement re-iterated that government remains committed to ensuring the health and wellbeing of all it’s citizens and requests the public to adhere to limited travel restrictions announced in this briefing.