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Sacci warns Ebola travel ban could hurt business

Government has banned the travel of non-South African citizens from high-risk Ebola countries.

FILE: A nurse wears protective clothing as he demonstrates the facilities in place at the Royal Free Hospital in north London on 6 August 2014, in preparation for a patient testing positive for the Ebola virus. Picture: AFP.

JOHANNESBURG - The South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Sacci) says the travel ban on non-south Africans from Ebola infected countries will not only hurt tourism but also business activity.

Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi announced yesterday that South Africans returning from West African countries will be questioned and tested if need be.

The outbreak of the virus has claimed at least 1,350 lives since its outbreak in March.

Sacci chief executive Neren Rau says although the travel ban will have an impact on business with West African countries, there is a need for caution.

"One doesn't want such a travel advisory to be in place for too long, so I believe we need to keep reassessing the situation."

He says the chamber needs to trust government's advice on this matter.

"We certainly don't want to put our members at risk as a chamber and we would rather err on the side of caution."

SCALE OF OUTBREAK CONCEALED

The scale of the world's worst Ebola outbreak has been concealed by families hiding infected loved ones in their homes and the existence of "shadow zones" that medics cannot enter, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday.

The UN agency issued a statement detailing why the outbreak in West Africa had been underestimated, following criticism that it had moved too slowly to contain the killer virus, now spreading out of control.

Independent experts raised similar concerns a month ago that the contagion could be worse than reported because suspicious local inhabitants are chasing away health workers and shunning treatment.

Under-reporting of cases is a problem especially in Liberia and Sierra Leone. The WHO said it was now working with Medecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to produce "more realistic estimates".

The head of MSF, which has urged the WHO to do more, told Reuters in an interview on Thursday that the fight against Ebola was being undermined by a lack of international leadership and emergency management skills.

The stigma surrounding Ebola poses a serious obstacle to efforts to calibrate the outbreak in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria, which has claimed far more victims than any other episode of the disease that was first discovered nearly 40 years ago in the forests of central Africa.

"As Ebola has no cure, some believe infected loved ones will be more comfortable dying at home," the WHO statement said.

"Others deny that a patient has Ebola and believe that care in an isolation ward - viewed as an incubator of the disease - will lead to infection and certain death. Most fear the stigma and social rejection that come to patients and families when a diagnosis of Ebola is confirmed."

Corpses are often buried without official notification, the WHO said, while an additional problem is the existence of numerous "shadow zones", or rural villages where there are rumours of cases and deaths that cannot be investigated because of community resistance or lack of staff and transport.

In other cases, where treatment is available, health centres are being immediately overwhelmed with patients, suggesting there is an invisible case-load of patients that is not on the radar of the official surveillance systems.

STRATEGY PLAN

The WHO said it had drawn up a draft strategy plan to combat Ebola in West Africa over the next six to nine months, implying that it does not expect to halt the epidemic before the end of the year.

"WHO is working on an Ebola road map document; it's really an operational document how to fight Ebola," WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib said at a news briefing. "It details the strategy for WHO and health partners for six to nine months to come."

Chaib, asked whether the timeline meant that the United Nations health agency expected the epidemic now raging in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone to continue into 2015, said: "Frankly, no one knows when this outbreak of Ebola will end."

Ebola will be declared over in a country if two incubation periods, or 42 days in total, have passed without any confirmed case, she said. Nigeria is the fourth country with known cases.

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