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23rd Feb 2020

EU health chiefs to debate entry screening for Ebola

  • Health workers' safety equipment in west Africa outbreak zone (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

EU health ministers will discuss the introduction of entry screening for potential Ebola carriers at a meeting in Brussels on Thursday (16 October).

Britain has already introduced screening at its airports in Heathrow and Gatwick, while other countries are likely to follow suit amid mounting concern about the possible spread of the disease in Europe.

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But medical experts are divided on the value of entry screening because of the three week incubation period of the disease.

EU leaders will also take part in a video conference call with US President Barack Obama later in the day to co-ordinate their response to the outbreak.

"We are not recommending entry screening as such by member states, but it's up to them," a commission official told reporters on Wednesday.

At a news conference in Geneva the same day, Bruce Aylward, assistant director-general of the World Health Organisation (WHO), told reporters the number of new cases is likely to hit between 5,000 and 10,000 a week by early December.

WHO figures put the death toll from Ebola at 4,447 from a total of nearly 9,000 cases.

But EU officials insist that despite the severity of the outbreak it cannot be classified as a pandemic.

"As bad as the outbreak is, it is still localised in three countries [in west Africa]", the official said.

However, he conceded that "the longer this epidemic persists in west Africa the greater chance that we will see sporadic imported cases elsewhere in the world."

The EU has so far pledged €180 million to Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Nigeria, the countries worst affected by the disease, while member states have promised to provide a further €300 million.

But the international community has been criticised by medical NGOs and the UN for failing to do enough.

Officials are anxious that in the run-up to Christmas the start of the flu season, could lead to a rising number of patients with Ebola-like fevers.

Ministers will also discuss public information campaigns urging patients not to visit hospital emergency rooms. The disease can only be transmitted to people who have been exposed to those with this virus.

Meanwhile, EU authorities are waiting for the results of clinical trials on a possible vaccine for the disease.

The bloc has also put in place plans to evacuate patients but, at present, can only airlift two patients at a time.

Officials say that EU authorities are working with Phoenix Air, a carrier with experience of flying people out of affected areas, and have reached an agreement with the US so that EU can use their planes.

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