Ebola airport screening in Australia finds and clears six possible cases – Guardian

Workers at the Royal Melbourne Hospital test the equipment they will be wearing should they treat an Ebola patient. Photograph: Phil Johnson/AAP
Workers at the Royal Melbourne Hospital test the equipment they will be wearing should they treat an Ebola patient. Photograph: Phil Johnson/AAP

Australian quarantine officers have held six people suspected of having Ebola at airports after interviewing 651 travellers in the past few months as part of the efforts to keep the disease out of the country.

As the first man to be diagnosed with Ebola in the US died on Wednesday the prime minister has said while it is “not impossible” it could spread to Australia there are many safety measures in place.

“It’s not impossible that it will come here but what we’re doing is carefully monitoring everyone who’s coming into this country who’s been to West Africa,” Tony Abbott told 3AW on Thursday.

“In every state, public hospitals have been prepared to deal with Ebola cases should we get any. We’ve spent $80m on top of the $40m we give every year to the World Health Organisation specifically on Ebola precautions. We’re constantly monitoring and reviewing the situation to see what more can be done.”

More than 600 people have been interviewed at airports by quarantine officers between August and 1 October, a spokesman for the Australian health department said. Six were referred for further consideration but all were cleared of the virus.

Of the six, three had been to funerals in Nigeria, but none of those were for people who had died of Ebola. Two more were doctors returning from West Africa.

The US secretary of state, John Kerry, on Wednesday called on other countries to pull their weight in the battle to halt Ebola.

“Smaller countries have stepped up to the plate – some quite remarkably,” he said. “Some smaller countries are contributing way above their per capita population. But the fact is more countries can and must step up to make their contributions felt.”

Kerry referred to State Department figures showing Australia had contributed $US7.5m ($8.5m) to the effort, more than Germany ($US3.2m) or Japan ($US3m), but much less than the Netherlands ($US21m) or Canada ($US31.9m). Australia has subsequently announced a further contribution of $10m.

The foreign minister, Julie Bishop, has cited the difficulty of repatriating health workers safely as a reason for not sending them to west Africa.

On Thursday Abbott maintained there was no need to send Australian health officials to the region to help contain the epidemic.

“As I understand things the public health systems in some of the West Africa countries are all but overwhelmed and there’s really not much point deploying Australian personnel, over and above those that are already there with NGOs, into a situation without a clear plan and that’s what we need.”

Kerry said the figures showed “the very real need for more countries to move resources of specific kinds”.

“It is not just a question of sending people, though it is vital to send people. But we need Ebola treatment units. We need healthcare workers. We need medevac capacity. We need mobile laboratories and staff.”

The World Bank chief, Jim Kim, said on Wednesday the global response to the Ebola crisis had “failed miserably”.

Abbott said the US and Spain were confident they could contain the virus and noted Nigeria had managed to get it under control after a small outbreak a few months ago.

The health department considers an Ebola case in Australia “low risk” and has complied with the measures recommended by the World Health Organisation, handing out guidelines to all international airports in the country.

Health checks are in place for people who have travelled through Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Democratic Republic of the Congo, and banners have been put up at airports listing the symptoms.


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