Govt slams Ebola tourism concerns

Reports emerged earlier today that hundreds of tourists due to visit SA had cancelled their trips.

FILE: A girl suspected of being infected with the Ebola virus has her temperature checked at the government hospital in Kenema, Sierra Leone, on 16 August 2014. Picture: AFP.

JOHANNESBURG - Government has slammed reports that growing fears over the deadly Ebola virus is beginning to impact the country's tourism industry.

Reports emerged earlier today that hundreds of tourists due to visit South Africa from Thailand, China, Japan and other Asian countries had cancelled their trips.

But the communications department says the report is based on flawed facts about the virus.

The department's Bongiwe Gambu says, "Not a single case of the virus was reported in the country and we are confident that the systems and protocols will address any incident should it arise."

Yesterday, the Department of Health confirmed that a 37-year-old man who underwent tests for the Ebola virus had been cleared.

The man was admitted to the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital on Sunday after visiting his doctor and complaining of a spiking fever.

The man had worked as a health and safety officer for a mining operation in Liberia.

At the same time, a pregnant woman was also tested for Ebola at a different hospital but also cleared.


Liberia battled on Tuesday to halt the spread of the Ebola disease in its crowded, run-down oceanside capital Monrovia, recording the most new deaths as fatalities from the world's worst outbreak of the deadly virus rose above 1,200.

The epidemic of the haemorrhagic disease, which can kill up to 90 percent of those it infects, is ravaging the three small West African states of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, and also has a toehold in Nigeria, Africa's biggest economy.

As the Geneva-based World Health Organization rushed to ramp up the global response to the outbreak first detected in March, including emergency food deliveries to quarantined zones, it announced that deaths from it had risen to 1,299 as of 16 August, out of 2,240 cases.

Between 14 and 16 August, Liberia recorded the most new deaths, 53, followed by Sierra Leone with 17, and Guinea with 14.

The WHO said it was working with the UN's World Food Programme (WFP) to ensure food delivery to one million people living in Ebola quarantine zones cordoned off by local security forces in a border zone of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

"Food has been delivered to hospitalised patients and people under quarantine who are not able to leave their homes to purchase food. Providing regular food supplies is a potent means of limiting unnecessary movement," it said in a statement.

Besides infection in border zones, Liberia is fighting to stop the spread of the virus in the poorest neighbourhoods of its capital, such as the West Point slum where at the weekend a rock-throwing crowd attacked and looted a temporary holding centre for suspected Ebola cases, 17 of whom fled.

As fears of wider contagion increased - Ebola is spread by contact with the bodily fluids of infected persons - Liberia sent police to track down the fugitive suspected cases.

"We are glad to confirm that all of the 17 individuals have been accounted for and have now been transferred to JFK Ebola specialist treatment centre," Liberia's Information Minister Lewis Brown told Reuters on Tuesday.

He added that after meetings with religious and community leaders, a task force was being set up that would go door-to-door through the West Point neighbourhood, a labyrinth of muddy alleys, to explain the risks of the disease and why anyone showing symptoms must be quickly isolated for treatment.

"I know that Monrovia is really of concern to WHO," WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib said in Geneva, underlining the importance of containment and isolation measures. "If you contain it, you've won the battle," she said.

Lewis said the Liberian authorities were considering imposing even tougher restrictions on movements. "We realise that we can't police our way out of this. We would prefer community awareness, but we need security back-up," he said.

While Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation and number one oil producer, appears to be containing its smaller outbreak, Liberia and Sierra Leone have been struggling, their weak health systems overwhelmed by the multiplying numbers of cases and deaths.

On Friday, these small two West African nations and a medical charity chided the WHO for its slow response, saying more action was needed to save victims threatened by the disease and hunger.