FREETOWN: The three nations at the centre of the west African Ebola outbreak were left increasingly isolated on Wednesday as more airlines suspended flights to the crisis zone.
Air France agreed to Paris’s request for a “temporary suspension” of services to Sierra Leone, leaving its capital Freetown and Monrovia in neighbouring Liberia with just one regular service, from Royal Air Morocco (RAM).
“In light of the analysis of the situation and as requested by the French government, Air France confirms it is maintaining its program of flights to and from Guinea and Nigeria,” the flag carrier said.
Air France’s decision came a day after British Airways said it was suspending flights to Liberia and Sierra Leone until next year due to Ebola concerns.
Authorities are scrambling to contain the worst outbreak of the lethal tropical virus in history, which has killed more than 1,400 people since it erupted in west Africa early this year.
The United Nations’ Ebola envoy David Nabarro on Monday took a swipe at airlines who had cut off Ebola-hit countries by scrapping flights.
“By isolating the country, it makes it difficult for the UN to do its work,” Nabarro told reporters in Freetown on the fifth day of a tour of the region.
“Pilots and others, as well as passengers, generally have very low risk of Ebola infection,” Keiji Fukuda, WHO’s Assistant Director-General on Health Security, told the same news conference.
Brussels Airlines normally runs four flights a week to Liberia and Sierra Leone and three to Guinea, but has also cancelled several services since Saturday due to the closure of the Senegalese border.
The carrier said it would decide on its future schedule this weekend.
The company committed to providing three separate flights to Freetown, Monrovia and Conakry this week in response to passenger demand and to deliver 40 tonnes of medical supplies from the United Nations.
Only RAM has vowed to stick to its normal flight schedule — once a day to Conakry and every other day on average to Monrovia and Freetown.
“Our approach is supportive rather than mercenary,” RAM spokesman Hakim Challot told AFP, adding: “From Casablanca, the take-up of seats to these three countries is extremely low, around 10 percent”.
UN officials have pledged to step up efforts against the lethal tropical virus, which has infected more than 2,600 and killed 1,427 since the start of the year.
Liberia has been worst hit, with 624 deaths recorded. Guinea, where the outbreak was first detected, has reported 406 deaths, Sierra Leone 392 and Nigeria five, according to the latest WHO figures.
Last week Democratic Republic of Congo said 13 people had died with symptoms of haemorrhagic fever and performed tests on dozens of others who had come into contact with them.
Kinshasa confirmed two Ebola cases on Sunday, but claimed they were unrelated to the epidemic currently ravaging west Africa.
The confirmation marked the seventh outbreak of Ebola in DR Congo, where the virus was first identified in 1976.
The UN on Wednesday allocated $1.5 million (1.1 million euros) to help the central African country fight Ebola from a “humanitarian needs”, saying the sum could double in the near future.
Nabarro, who has already visited Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea as part of a tour of Ebola-hit west African nations, arrived in Nigeria on Wednesday.
Nigerian Education Minister Ibrahim Shekarau has announced that public and private schools will remain closed until October 13 as a precaution against Ebola. Students had been due to resume classes on September 15.
Elsewhere, a WHO doctor who contracted Ebola arrived in a German hospital, the first patient with the virus to be treated in the country, officials said.
The man — a Senegalese epidemiologist infected in Sierra Leone, according to the WHO — arrived on a specially equipped aircraft in the northern city of Hamburg, and he was able to walk off the plane by himself, said Hamburg health department spokesman Rico Schmidt.