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No repatriation plan for Swiss Ebola victims

AFP/The Local · 29 Aug 2014, 11:15

Published: 29 Aug 2014 11:15 GMT+02:00

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Swiss air rescue service Rega does not have the necessary equipment to transport those suffering from the deadly virus back from affected countries in West Africa, writes newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung.

Although the transport of patients with infectious diseases forms part of its remit, the highly contagious Ebola is an exception, said the paper, and Rega is not equipped to deal with this highly challenging situation.

Speaking to the paper, the Swiss foreign affairs department said that Switzerland would have to depend on the cooperation of foreign resources for the repatriation of Swiss Ebola sufferers.

And as yet Switzerland does not have any promises of help.

Daniel Koch of the federal health office told NZZ that the office is in contact with various countries about the issue, particularly Italy and France, but that “The question will be asked on a case by case basis.”

Switzerland is particularly at risk of seeing a rise in Swiss natives affected by Ebola, noted the paper, since numerous international organizations dealing with the crisis are based in the Geneva, including the International Red Cross and Médecins Sans Frontière, which has at least 184 employees working in virus-affected countries.

These organizations are particularly concerned with how their employees will be urgently repatriated should they become infected with the deadly disease, reports NZZ.

Flights scrapped

The report comes as the Geneva-based World Health Organization criticized many airlines’ decision to scrap flights in and out of Ebola-hit countries, warning that suspension of flights was threatening efforts to beat the epidemic.

"Right now there is a super risk of the response effort being choked off because we simply cannot get enough seats on enough airplanes to get people in and out, and get goods and supplies in," WHO's emergency chief Bruce Aylward told reporters as he launched a nine-month Ebola battle plan.

"We assume that the current restrictions on airlines will stop within the next couple of weeks," he told reporters. "This is absolutely vital."

WHO has declared Ebola an international health emergency, but has insisted repeatedly that trade and travel restrictions are not the answer.

But in the face of the spiralling Ebola toll in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria, airlines have reduced and suspended flights.

"There's got to be global preparedness. There's got to be preparedness in major transport hubs. But bans on travel and trade will not stop this virus. In fact, you are more likely to compromise the ability to respond," said Aylward.

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"It's a self-defeating strategy to ban travel. That's not the problem. People with Ebola are symptomatic,” he said, adding that the exit screening of passengers’ temperatures can "substantively reduce risk".

On Wednesday, Air France became the latest carrier to announce a suspension of its service to Sierra Leone, while British Airways said it was stopping its flights to Freetown and Monrovia until next year.

Royal Air Morocco is now the only airline providing a regular service to the capitals of Sierra Leone and Liberia, while Brussels Airlines offers an irregular schedule.

According to WHO, the Ebola outbreak has already killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa and could infect more than 20,000.

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AFP/The Local (news@thelocal.ch)

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