SA on high alert to combat Ebola

The Health Department says outbreak response teams are prepared.

FILE:A member of Doctors Without Borders (MSF) putting on protective gear at the isolation ward of the Donka Hospital in Conakry, where people infected with the Ebola virus are being treated. Picture: AFP.

CAPE TOWN - The Department of Health is on high alert to the possibility of an Ebola case in South Africa. The largest Ebola outbreak ever is currently being combated in several West African countries.

More than 600 people have died over the past few months. The department says it's taking all necessary precautions to keep the Ebola virus from spreading to South Africa.

The department says outbreak response teams are on high alert and prepared to respond in the event a suspected case is identified.

But the Nation Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD)'s Lucille Bloomberg says there's no need for panic.

"You can't get it by just being in a place. You can't get it by being in a plane. It's by direct contact by handling blood or body tissues."

LIBERIA SHUTS SCHOOLS

Liberia will close schools and consider quarantining some communities, it said on Wednesday, announcing the toughest measures yet imposed by a West African government to halt the worst Ebola outbreak on record.

Security forces in Liberia were ordered to enforce the steps, part of an action plan that includes placing all non-essential government workers on 30-day compulsory leave.

Ebola has been blamed for hundreds of deaths in Liberia, neighbouring Guinea and Sierra Leone, according to World Health Organisation figures, as under-funded healthcare systems have struggled to cope with the epidemic. Liberia accounted for just under one-fifth of those deaths.

"This is a major public health emergency. It's fierce, deadly and many of our countrymen are dying and we need to act to stop the spread," Lewis Brown, Liberia's information minister, told Reuters.

"We need the support of the international community now more than ever. We desperately need all the help we can get."

But highlighting international concern about the crisis, the US Peace Corps said it was withdrawing 340 volunteers from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

Meanwhile, Britain on Wednesday held a top-level government meeting to discuss the spread of the highly-contagious Ebola virus in West Africa, saying the outbreak was a threat it needed to respond to.

Although no cases of Ebola have been found in Britain, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said after the emergency meeting that London was considering extra precautions but was confident it could contain the disease if necessary.

"In terms of the UK the issue is about the possibility of somebody who has contracted the disease in Africa getting sick here," he said after the meeting, which health experts, scientists and other ministers attended.

"It is not about the disease spreading in the UK because frankly we have different standards of infection control procedure that would make that most unlikely."

He said that ministers had discussed what additional measures Britain could take to contain the outbreak in West Africa, and what steps needed to be taken in case a British national in the area contracted the disease.

He did not specify what precautions were being considered.

Additional information from Reuters