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11th Dec 2019

EU states to step up Ebola screening in west Africa

  • The UK is to raise the prospect of checks at EU airports at next week's sumit (Photo: SuperJet International)

EU countries have agreed to step up Ebola screening at airports in west Africa but not in Europe, despite a British appeal.

“All the ministers who spoke want to increase screening at point-of-exit in the [affected] African countries”, EU health commissioner Tonio Borg said in Brussels on Thursday (16 October) after a meeting with 21 EU health chiefs.

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“The [European] commission will undertake an immediate audit of screening systems in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone to check their effectiveness and to reinforce them if necessary”.

He noted that the move will help victims of the virus as well as making Europe more secure.

“It’s also important for individuals because if they are diagnosed they can be treated immediately”.

The UK earlier this week introduced its own checks at Heathrow airport and plans to extend them to Gatwick airport and to Eurostar trains in the coming days.

France and the Czech Republic are following suit, but Belgium, which operates direct flights to the African region, has declined to do so.

The office of British PM David Cameron on Thursday said he will call on EU states to take similar measures at a summit in Brussels next week.

“There was a discussion regarding screening across Europe and the prime minister made clear other countries needed to do more and introduce their own checks if we are to strengthen protection”, his office said in a statement.

But for his part, Borg said he has no legal mandate to back Cameron’s call. “I have no right to order member states to do this. It’s their sovereign right”, he said.

He added that the “informal” meeting did not lead to legally binding decisions. “I don’t even have a document [on what we agreed]”, he noted.

The health ministers also called for a set of other measures.

The commission is to draw up “common protocols” on an information campaign for travellers and for EU states’ information sharing on infected passengers.

The campaign is to include leaflets and a new website on how to spot symptoms and where to turn for help.

But there is no plan for a common EU “database” on tracing the movements of infected travellers for now.

The EU executive will also hold a “workshop” on “best practices on infection control” inside Europe.

It is to sign an accord with the US on using its planes to evacuate infected European health workers and it will look into EU “joint procurement” of medical supplies for Africa.

Borg noted that for all the “hundreds” of people who are going back and forth to west Africa there has so far been just one case of Ebola transmission inside Europe.

The case involves a Spanish nurse who treated a priest who died of Ebola after returning from Africa.

Spain has also put 21 other people in quarantine as a safety measure.

The Italian health minister, Beatrice Lorenzin, added: “It’s important to contain panic spreading among European citizens … to explain there is no risk of an epidemic in Europe: We have good hospitals, good systems, good doctors to treat people”.

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