Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

Ebola virus: British Airways suspends all flights to Sierra Leone and Liberia

BA cancels West Africa services as Nigeria reports new cases

A private plane arrives at Dobbins Air Reserve Base transporting a second American missionary stricken with Ebola, Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014, in Marietta, Ga.  Nancy Writebol is expected to be admitted to Atlanta's Emory University Hospital on Tuesday, where she will join another U.S. aid worker, Dr. Kent Brantly, in a special isolation unit. (AP Photo/Todd Kirkland)
A private plane arrives at Dobbins Air Reserve Base transporting a second American missionary stricken with Ebola, Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014, in Marietta, Ga. Nancy Writebol is expected to be admitted to Atlanta's Emory University Hospital on Tuesday, where she will join another U.S. aid worker, Dr. Kent Brantly, in a special isolation unit. (AP Photo/Todd Kirkland)
Health workers speak to people on the streets to educate them about the deadly Ebola virus in the city of  Freetown, Sierra Leone. (AP Photo/ Youssouf Bah)
Health workers speak to people on the streets to educate them about the deadly Ebola virus in the city of Freetown, Sierra Leone. (AP Photo/ Youssouf Bah)
A man reads a newspaper on a Lagos street about the Ebola outbreak (AP)
A man reads a newspaper on a Lagos street about the Ebola outbreak (AP)

British Airways has suspended some of its routes to West Africa as the deadly Ebola virus continued to spread.

Eight suspected cases have now been reported in the Nigerian capital of Lagos involving people who came into contact with the country's first victim, Patrick Sawyer.

On Sunday Emirates became the first major international airline to suspend its services to the region over fears of the disease outbreak, which has now claimed almost 900 lives.

And today BA followed in its footsteps. The airline normally operates a four-times-a-week service from Heathrow to Freetown in Sierra Leone, with a connection on to Monrovia in Liberia.

A spokesperson said: “We have temporarily suspended our flights to and from Liberia and Sierra Leone until August 31 2014 due to the deteriorating public health situation in both countries.

“The safety of our customers, crew and ground teams is always our top priority and we will keep the routes under constant review in the coming weeks.”

Meanwhile, two US missionaries who contracted the deadly Ebola virus while combating the outbreak in West Africa have been treated with an experimental “cure” developed in collaboration with the American military.

The conditions of both Nancy Writebol and Dr Kent Brantly are reported to be improving, though health officials stressed there was no way to confirm whether this was as a direct result of the unprecedented treatment.

The spread in Nigeria remains a concerning new development, and includes cases involving a doctor and a nurse who had helped treat Mr Sawyer, the Liberian diplomat and US citizen who died on 25 July after travelling with the disease to Lagos via Ghana and Togo.

Airports around the world remain on high alert to signs of sickness among passengers arriving from West Africa, and a health scare was reported at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital after a man arrived with a high fever and a stomach ache. He was later described as being in “good condition” and, though tests for Ebola were carried out, doctors said it was unlikely he would be proven positive.

Focus on the Ebola outbreak in the US has been heightened by the cases of Dr Brantly and Ms Writebol. He is currently being treated at a specialist isolation unit in Atlanta, while she was being evacuated from Liberia to join him there on Tuesday morning.

While there is no vaccine or specific treatment available for the Ebola disease, several are under development and there has been criticism of pharmaceutical companies from those who believe more would have been done already if the outbreaks had not historically been limited to Africa.

The experimental drug provided to Dr Brantly and Ms Writebol is called ZMapp, which was identified as a possible treatment in January and has been developed by a San Diego pharmaceutical company in collaboration with the US government and agencies in Canada.

The drug has never gone through human trials or been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but the two aid workers began their treatment in Liberia where the FDA has no jurisdiction.

ZMapp is made from antibodies produced by lab animals exposed to the virus and is aimed at boosting the patient’s immune system. In a statement, Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc said very little of the drug was available but that they were “cooperating with appropriate government agencies to increase production as quickly as possible”.

Yesterday saw the beginning of the US-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, attended by Barack Obama and dozens of African heads of state. American health officials held talks with the Guinean President Alpha Conde and senior officials from Liberia and Sierra Leone – whose presidents have stayed at home to deal with the ongoing outbreak.

Further reading:

Ebola: As deadly virus becomes a threat to Europe, what signs and symptoms should we look out for? 

Briton isolated in Ebola alert 

Ebola virus: Emergency appeal launched for victims by British Red Cross 

Ebola virus outbreak: Sierra Leone and Liberia announce Army enforced quarantine zones and house-to-house searches to round up suspected victims 

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