A number of airlines have started to cancel flights to West Africa over concerns about the growing Ebola epidemic. The latest airline to announce cancellations is British Airways, which declared in a statement on Tuesday that flights to Liberia and Sierra Leone would be halted until 31 August.
“The safety of our customers, crew and ground teams is always our top priority and we will keep the routes under constant review in the coming weeks,” the airline stated.
On Friday, the WHO stated that the outbreak constitutes an ‘extraordinary event’ and a public health risk to other countries. With 1 711 cases (1 070 confirmed, 436 probable, 205 suspect), including 932 deaths, this is currently the largest Ebola outbreak ever recorded. In response to the outbreak, a number of unaffected countries have made travel related advice or recommendations.
Other airlines to suspend flights are Emirates Airlines (flights to Guinea), Arik Air and Asky Airlines (flights to Liberia and Sierra Leone). To date, travel insurance remains unaffected by the epidemic, with insurers continuing to cover clients for medical claims as well as medical transportation and evacuation from the four regions currently affected. The risk of infection for foreign travellers, according to one insurer, is still considered to be extremely low if reasonable precautions are taken.
Ensure an integrated response and mitigation strategy
Tracey Linnell, general manager of advisory services at ContinuitySA comments that the outbreak should serve as a wake-up call to companies to get pandemic strategies in place as part of their business continuity management plans.
“Companies need to look at the current Ebola outbreak and what risks it poses to them and their employees, and put protocols in place now. At the same time, they should make sure their overall approach to pandemics is in place.” Linnell says.
Linnell says that companies whose people travel into the region or that have business relationships in West Africa need to be sure they are educating staff about symptoms and are monitoring the health of at-risk employees. They also need to have a plan for getting employees out of countries they might be visiting if borders are closed.
“The possible impact on employees is inevitably the first thing people think about but businesses also need to pay strict attention to their supply chain dependencies,” says Linnell. “What would the impact on business operations and the wider supply chain be if borders were to be closed owing to a pandemic? Remember, the direct effect could be on a business partner, but if they are vital to your operations, the knock-on effects are likely to be severe. You need to understand exactly what the risks are, and have mitigation strategies in place.”
“Companies that haven’t implemented a business continuity management plan should consider doing so as a matter of urgency,” concludes Linnell. “This means that they will have an integrated response and mitigation strategy to this and other risks in place.”