Ebola outbreak: SA should not panic

Govt says all ports of entry are on high alert and people entering the country are being screened.

Health specialists prepare for work in an isolation ward for patients with Ebola at the Doctors Without Borders facility in Guékedou, southern Guinea. Picture: AFP.

CAPE TOWN - As the death toll from an Ebola epidemic in West Africa continues to rise, South Africa's Health Department remains confident there will be no outbreak in the country.

The World Health Organisation released the new death toll figure of 729 on Thursday, as some countries pulled their volunteers from the region.

The department's Joe Maila says a ll ports of entry are on high alert and people entering the country are being screened.

He adds that facilities are in place to deal with possible threats, but for now there's not a single suspected case.

"People of South Africa shouldn't panic as there's no problem and we're doing everything that we can to make sure that we prevent it from entering the country."

A new global response plan - worth over a R1 billion - is being rolled out in West Africa to try and stop the spread of the virus.

WHO Director-General Margaret Chan will meet in Conakry, Guinea on Friday with the presidents of affected West African nations, it said in a statement.

"The scale of the Ebola outbreak, and the persistent threat it poses, requires WHO and Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone to take the response to a new level and this will require increased resources, in-country medical expertise, regional preparedness and coordination," said Chan.

The plan identifies the need for "several hundred more personnel" to be deployed in affected countries to ease the strain on overstretched treatment facilities, the WHO said. Clinical doctors and nurses, epidemiologists, and logisticians are urgently needed, it said in an appeal to donor countries.

At the same time, a US aid worker who was infected with the deadly Ebola virus while working in West Africa will be flown to the United States to be treated in a high-security ward at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, hospital officials said on Thursday.

The aid worker, whose name has not been released, will be moved in the next several days to a special isolation unit at Emory. The unit was set up in collaboration with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

CDC spokeswoman Barbara Reynolds said her agency is working with the US State Department to facilitate the transfer.

To accentuates the seriousness of the problem, Sierra Leone declared a state of public emergency on Thursday to tackle the worst ever outbreak of Ebola and will call in security forces to quarantine epicentres of the deadly virus, President Ernest Bai Koroma said in a statement.

The measures resembled a tough anti-Ebola package announced by neighbouring Liberia on Wednesday evening.

Koroma announced he was cancelling a visit to Washington for a US-Africa summit next week because of the crisis and would instead hold an emergency meeting with regional leaders in Guinea on Friday.

Additional reporting by Reuters