Lagos--Arik Air yesterday said it had suspended flight operations to Liberia and Sierra Leone following the death last week, of a Liberian, Mr. Patrick Sawyer, of the dreaded Ebola disease, even as it advised that all inbound flights into Nigeria from any of the Ebola affected countries be immediately suspended by the Federal Government.
Sawyer flew into Nigeria onboard Asky Airline to attend an ECOWAS conference in Calabar, Cross River State.
This came as First Consultants Medical Centre Ltd, Obalende, Lagos, the hospital where the first Ebola victim in Nigeria died, said it was under serious pressure to release the victim.
Confirming the suspension of the flights yesterday, Arik Air General Manager, Public Relations, Mr Ola Adebanji said "As a result of the first Ebola virus death officially confirmed in Lagos, and involving a Liberian national who flew on a foreign (non-Nigerian) based airline from Monrovia via Lome (Togo) into the city last week, Arik Air will be suspending operations into Monrovia (Liberia) and Freetown (Sierra Leone) effective July 28, 2014."
"The suspension will be in force until further notice. This decision is a pre-cautionary measure aimed at safeguarding the precious lives of Nigerians. Arik Air is taking this important measure as a concerned corporate citizen bearing interest of Nigerians at heart."
According to him, the airline acknowledged steps the Federal Government of Nigeria was currently taking to prevent the spread of the deadly Ebola virus, saying "however, we feel compelled to take the decision to immediately suspend services into the two Ebola affected countries due to our interest in the well being of Nigerians."
He explained that at the early stages of the development across West Africa, the Gambian government took the proactive decision to stop airlines, including Arik Air, from bringing inbound passengers from Monrovia, Conakry, Guinea, and Freetown into Banjul.
Adebanji added "Hence, in line with the actions taken by the Gambian Government, we trust, and are confident, that the Federal Government of Nigeria shall take all steps necessary to control and curtail the spread of the virus. We humbly suggest that as a first step, all inbound flights into Nigeria, originating from any of the Ebola-affected countries, be immediately suspended."
Meanwhile, First Consultants Medical Centre Ltd, Obalende, Lagos, the hospital where the first Ebola victim in Nigeria died, has spoken out on the circumstances surrounding the incident.
In a statement by the hospital's Chief Consultant/ Medical Director, Dr B.N. Ohiaeri and the Senior Consultant Physician and Endocrinologist, Dr. A.S. Adadevoh, it said the hospital was under pressure to release the victim.
According to the statement, "He was fully conscious and gave his clinical history and told us he was a senior diplomat from Liberia. We refused to let him out of the hospital in spite of intense pressure as we were told he was a senior ECOWAS official who had an important role to play at the ECOWAS convention in Calabar. The initial test result from the Lagos University Teaching Hospital laboratory indicated a signal of possible Ebola Virus Disease, but required confirmation.
"We then took the further step of reaching out to senior officials in the office of the Secretary of Health of the United States of America, who promptly assisted us with contacts at the Centre for Disease Control and World Health Organisation regional laboratory centre in Senegal. Jointly working with the state, Federal agencies and international agencies, we were able to obtain confirmation of Ebola Virus Disease (Zaire strain). The gentleman subsequently died on Friday at 6.50am (25th July, 2014)."
Following the death of the patient, the duo said there was "orderly temporary shutdown of the hospital with immediate evacuation of in-house patients. This was followed by appropriate professional removal of the body and its incineration under WHO guidelines witnessed by all appropriate agencies," noting that the reopening of the hospital would also be in accordance with WHO guidelines.
The statement added that in keeping with World Health Organisation guideline, the hospital had been shut down briefly for full decontamination.
Meanwhile, a cross section of Lagos residents has urged the state and federal governments to spread their dragnet nationwide to ensure that all the co- passengers aboard the Asky aircraft that brought the victim to Nigeria are quickly located and screened for the virus.
Speaking to Vanguard at the departure wing of the Murtala Mohammed International Airport in Lagos, a middle-aged man, who identified himself as Olukayode, said it was not good enough for the co-passengers to have been allowed to go away without ensuring their health had not been compromised.
Another passenger who pleaded anonymity said screening of people should have been adopted earlier to stop the spread of the disease.