6 August 2014

Liberia Denies Flights Cancellation As BA Bolts Over Ebola

Photo: Tommy Trenchard/IRIN
An employee of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) prepares to treat Ebola victims in Sierra Leone.

Monrovia — Fresh off a Liberian government's dismissal of media reports that the Government of Ghana has banned flights from Ghana to Liberia and vice versa, British Airways says it is suspending flights out of Liberia in the wake of the deadly Ebola virus wreaking havoc in West Africa.

The BA suspension follows a decision by the lead African carriers Arik and ASKY which recently halted flights to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. It was on ASKY that Patrick Sawyer, a WASH consultant at the Ministry of Finance, first showed major symptoms of the deadly Ebola virus before succumbing to his death in Nigeria.

Asky said it took the decision to keep "its passengers and staff safe during this unsettling time". Asky is the second airline, after Nigeria's largest airline, Arik Air, to ban flights to Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Arik Air said it had suspended its flight operations in Liberia and Sierra Leone following the death Sawyer, 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 on-board Asky Airline to attend an ECOWAS conference in Calabar, Cross River State. On Wednesday, Lagos announced that it now has eight suspected cases of Ebola, all in people who came into contact with Sawyer.

But on Wednesday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in a statement Wednesday said contrary to media reports that the Ghanaian Government has banned all flights from Ghana into Liberia, Kenya Airways, Gambia Bird and other flights are still flying in and out of Monrovia from and in Ghana. The release also stated that there has been no harassment or detention of any passenger from Liberia at the Ghanaian airport.

According to the release, the Liberian Embassy in Accra, Ghana further disclosed that the Ghanaian Government has put in place routine measures at the airport, such as registration and the reading of temperatures of all passengers arriving in Accra from Ebola infected countries. Similar measures are introduced by the Liberian Government at the Roberts International Airport.

"There have been consistent reports and rumors recently, especially in some news media, that the Ghanaian Government is banning flights from Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria as a way of containing the Ebola virus and that the movement of Liberians in Ghana, especially at Buduburam Camp are being restricted in light of the Ebola scare. These reports are unfounded and untrue."

The dismissal from Liberia comes as British Airways announced its cancellation of flights to Sierra Leone and Liberia, cutting off the only direct links between Britain and the Ebola-infected area of West Africa. The airline, which operates a direct flight four times a week from London to Sierra Leone and on to Liberia, suspended the flight "due to the deteriorating public health situation both countries".

BA's decision follows warnings at the weekend from the World Health Organization that the outbreak, which has killed nearly 900 people since February, was spreading faster than it could be controlled. Health officials are believed to be particularly concerned about Liberia, where staff are understood have fled hospitals in some areas because of fears that they themselves could become infected.

A statement from British Airways sent to travel companies said: "British Airways services from London Heathrow to Freetown and Monrovia will be temporarily suspended from tomorrow, 6 August until 31 August 2014, due to the deteriorating public health situation in both countries."

The BA move follows some other international airlines serving the two countries, as well as neighboring Guinea, which is also affected, though others are still operating to all three.

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