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In this undated file image by the CDC shows an Ebola virus.
Ebola moving faster than efforts at control: WHO Emirates suspends flights, Manila monitors returnees, Lebanon restricts entry

CONAKRY, Guinea, Aug 1, (Agencies): An Ebola outbreak that has killed more than 700 people in West Africa is moving faster than the efforts to control the disease, the head of the World Health Organization warned as presidents from the affected countries met Friday in Guinea’s capital. Doctors Without Borders said its teams were overwhelmed with new Ebola patients in Sierra Leone and that the situation in Liberia was now “dire.” Dr Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization, said the meeting in Conakry “must be a turning point” in the battle against Ebola, which is now sickening people in three African capitals for the first time in history. “If the situation continues to deteriorate, the consequences can be catastrophic in terms of lost lives but also severe socio-economic disruption and a high risk of spread to other countries,” she said.

At least 729 people in four countries — Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria — have died since cases first emerged back in March. Two American health workers in Liberia have been infected, and an American man of Liberian descent died in Nigeria from the disease, health authorities there say. Plans are underway to bring back the two American aid workers — Nancy Writebol and Dr Kent Brantly — back to the US A small private jet based in Atlanta has been dispatched to Liberia, said missionary group Samaritan’s Purse. Writebol remains in serious but stable condition, the group said Friday. While health officials say the virus is transmitted only through direct contact with bodily fluids, many sick patients have refused to go to isolation centers and have infected family members and other caregivers.

The fatality rate has been about 60 percent, and the scenes of patients bleeding from the eyes, mouth and ears has led many relatives to keep their sick family members at home instead. Sierra Leone is now sending teams door-to-door in search of Ebola patients and others who have been exposed to the disease. Chan emphasized Friday that the general public “is not at high risk of infection,” but also said the Ebola virus should not be allowed to circulate widely. “Constant mutation and adaptation are the survival mechanisms of viruses and other microbes,” she said. “We must not give this virus opportunities to deliver more surprises.” Randy Schoepp, chief of diagnostics at the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, which is running the only lab in Liberia that is testing Ebola samples, said the deaths there may be just the tip of the iceberg. Even just getting samples to a lab is difficult, he said, because many drivers are scared to even transport vials of blood that may contain Ebola. “I believe we’re only seeing a small portion of the cases out there ...

The virus is getting to large, dense, city areas. We’re now getting samples (to test) from all over,” he said Friday. WHO has said it plans to launch a $100 million response plan that would include funding the deployment of hundreds more health care workers to the affected countries. Doctors Without Borders, or Medecins Sans Frontieres, on Friday said that pledge “needs to translate to immediate and effective action.” While the group has deployed some 550 health workers, it said it did not have the resources to expand further. “Over the last weeks, there has been a significant surge in the epidemic — the number of cases has increased dramatically in Sierra Leone and Liberia, and the disease has spread to many more villages and towns,” the organization said in a statement. “After a lull in new cases in Guinea, there has been a resurgence in infections and deaths in the past week.”

Meanwhile, other countries are taking precautions to prevent the spread of Ebola. The African Union mission in Somalia canceled a planned troop rotation by Sierra Leonean forces in an effort to prevent Ebola from crossing into the Horn of Africa country, the military said.

Seychelles forfeited an African Cup qualifying game and withdrew from the competition Thursday rather than allow Sierra Leone’s soccer team to travel to the Indian Ocean island. And a cyclist from Sierra Leone competed in the Commonwealth Games after being tested for Ebola. Nigeria’s minister of health, Onyebuchi Chukwu, said Thursday the government has located 10 more people who had primary contact with the man who flew to Lagos, and died there because of Ebola. The government is tracking down the remaining people who had contact with him, he said. As of Friday, 69 people are under surveillance and two are quarantined, Chukwu said. Dubai’s Emirates Airline is to suspend flights to Guinea, one of three African countries hit by an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus, a company spokesperson told AFP on Friday. “Emirates will be suspending its service to Conakry from Aug 2 until further notice, due to the outbreak of the Ebola virus in Guinea,” a spokesperson said in emailed comments. “We apologise for any inconvenience caused to our customers.

However the safety of our passengers and crew is of the highest priority and will not be compromised,” the source added. Since March, there have been more than 1,300 cases of Ebola and 729 deaths in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, according to the World Health Organisation. The epidemic that has hit major cities and sparked alarm over its possible spread to other continents through air travel. Emirates does not fly to Liberia or Sierra Leone. “Our service to Dakar, Senegal, which is linked with Conakry, will not be affected,” said the airline spokesperson. “We will be guided by the updates from international health authorities.” The Philippines said Friday people arriving from west African countries hit by the Ebola outbreak would be monitored for a month to prevent the virus spreading to the Asian nation.

Manila last month imposed a ban on travel to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone amid the world’s worst ever outbreak of the tropical virus, while the health ministry announced extra measures on Friday. “We have to be proactive. We know that the threat is there, and we do not want any surprises,” health ministry spokesman Lyndon Leesuy told a news conference. Filipinos returning from the three outbreak countries, as well as visitors from those nations, would be screened at Philippine airports and their health status monitored daily for a month after their arrival, he added. The health ministry said 20 Filipino workers who returned from Sierra Leone in June and July were put under this regime by health officials. Hospital facilities have been prepared to admit any who would develop Ebola symptoms, it said in a statement, while stressing the country remained free of the deadly virus. The foreign department said there were 3,491 Filipinos working in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone when the travel ban was imposed on July 4.

They are among an estimated 10 million Filipinos who work abroad. With 20,000 citizens living in three countries affected by an Ebola outbreak, Lebanon is taking a series of measures to prevent the virus reaching its shores, government officials said Friday. Health Minister Wael Abu Faour, during a tour of Beirut airport, said the ministry “has asked all airlines, particularly those bringing people from Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, to inform Lebanese authorities about anyone displaying suspicious symptoms.” Any traveller with such symptoms would be turned over for assessment to an 18-person team of doctors and nurses posted at the airport.

The foreign ministry, meanwhile, called on Lebanese embassies to ensure that citizens abroad were kept informed of the outbreak, taking appropriate precautions and being given assistance if they wanted to return home. Nearly 12,000 Lebanese citizens live in Sierra Leone, with another 6,500 in Liberia and 3,500 in Guinea, the three African nations worst affected by the Ebola outbreak that has killed nearly 730 people so far.

For its part, the labour ministry said Friday it has suspended the delivery of work permits to residents of the three countries. “As a result of fears about public health and to prevent an Ebola epidemic, the labour ministry is no longer receiving work permit requests from residents of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia,” it said. An official at the ministry said the number of workers affected was limited and the decision was “a precautionary measure.” The body of man who died in Liberia has been quarantined by authorities in southeast Nigeria as a precaution amid growing concern over Ebola, an official said on Friday. The man’s relatives repatriated his remains over the weekend for burial in the Oyi area of Anambra state.

There was no immediate evidence that Ebola caused his death, but panic broke out in Oyi when locals learned that he had died in Liberia, one of three countries ravaged by the deadliest known outbreak of the virus, an Anambra government spokesman Emeka Ozumba, told AFP. “The government decided to keep the corpse away from relations and the public until we are sure of the cause of death since the body was flown in from Liberia,” Ozumba said. The length of the man’s stay in Liberia or the precise day he died were not immediately known. “The step is precautionary,” Ozumba said, adding that tests would be run on the body before it would be released. Scores of people are thought to have contracted Ebola while burying relatives who died of the virus.

Plans are underway to bring back one of the two American aid workers sick with Ebola in Africa. A small private jet based in Atlanta has been dispatched to Liberia where the two sick Americans work for missionary groups. Officials say the jet is outfitted with a special, portable tent designed for transporting patients with highly infectious diseases.

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