Ebola: SAA continues West Africa flights

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South African Airways (SAA) will continue operating in West Africa, consistent with the position adopted by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA), says the airline.

The WHO Emergency Committee meeting on the Ebola outbreak, concluded that “there should be no general ban on international travel or trade” to that region. Having noted this, SAA says it has stepped up measures to protect its passengers, crew and ground staff.

These measures include ensuring that the airline staff be vigilantly on the lookout for passengers bearing specific and visible symptoms associated with the Ebola virus. The staff are adequately trained to manage such incidents, should the need arise.

In cases where a passenger shows visible symptoms associated with the infection at check in, such passengers will be isolated, and passenger interviews and tests conducted by the health authorities to determine the possible cause of symptoms. If there is any doubt regarding the medical condition of any suspected passenger, SAA may elect to deny such passenger/s to board its aircraft.

In cases where passengers develop symptoms after the aircraft has commenced its flight, the crew on board will initiate specific procedures that include isolating such passengers from others on board the aircraft. This will eliminate possible physical interaction of affected passengers with the rest of the passengers. The virus is not airborne and no transmission may occur due to air circulation in the cabin. It is transmitted through infected bodily fluids of a sick passenger. Once isolated, such passengers may not present a risk to fellow passengers as the Ebola virus is not transmitted in the air, but through body fluids such as blood and saliva among others, says SAA.

Each aircraft has been equipped with special protective gear for crew on board to wear and to enable them to respond to any passengers suspected of having been infected, or displaying the listed symptoms that include sweating, nose bleeding or vomiting. There is also a special biohazard waste disposal kit intended for the safe disposal of waste.

SAA flies to five destinations in West Africa, namely Abidjan in the Ivory Coast; Accra in Ghana; Cotonou in Benin; Dakar in Senegal; and Lagos in Nigeria. There is no travel ban to any of these destinations as a result of the outbreak of the virus in that region.

SAA says it will remain in communication with its local health authorities and will continually monitor the situation, which will enable it to constantly do risk assessment and review decisions should there be developments that warrant such a review.

“SAA would like to urge everyone travelling to the West African region to take the necessary precaution and be vigilant,” said the airline in a statement.