South Africa bans travellers from Ebola-affected countries

22 August 2014

South Africa has imposed a travel ban on foreign nationals travelling from West African countries identified as high-risk in order to prevent the spread of Ebola to the country, unless such travel is considered absolutely essential.

The identified high-risk countries are Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia – with Nigeria, Kenya and Ethiopia being identified as medium-risk.

Announcing the ban in Pretoria on Thursday, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi added that South African citizens wishing to travel to these countries would be asked to delay their travel unless it was also absolutely essential.

“All South Africans are hereby advised to avoid non-essential travel to Liberia, Guinea or Sierra Leone,” Motsoaledi said. “South Africans are not restricted from travelling to these countries, however all returning travellers from these countries will be subjected to rigorous screening and medical assessments before being allowed entry into the country.”

He said South African citizens returning from these countries would be subjected to a stricter screening process. This would include completing a comprehensive health questionnaire and temperature screening. If these revealed anything, they would be followed by a complete medical examination.

Motsoaledi said all travellers and crew members arriving at South African points of entry would have to complete a travel health questionnairel. “If found to have any of the symptoms or signs suggestive of Ebola, they will be referred to one of the designated hospitals for further investigations and management.”

The minister was briefing the media following the Cabinet’s latest fortnightly meeting, where he presented an update on the Ebola outbreak.

Over 1 000 people have died from the virus in West Africa, according to the World Health Organisation. Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone have each declared the outbreak a national disaster.

Besides the high-risk countries, South Africa has identified medium-risk countries – most people travelling from West Africa to South Africa travel via these countries – as well as low risk countries.

“For medium and low risk countries, the normal surveillance that has been going on will just be enhanced,” Motsoaledi said.

He added that there was a special category of South Africans who work in the high-risk countries in mining, communications, security and retail. “For these groups, we have called a special meeting tomorrow, which will deal with their unique situation.”

He said the Cabinet has decided to establish an inter-ministerial committee coordinate the country’s response to the Ebola outbreak.

“Cabinet further approved funding requested by the Department of Health, to the tune of R32.5-million, from the African Renaissance Fund, to support containment and prevent further spread of the virus to South Africa and other countries.

“Part of the funds will be used to deploy the mobile laboratory in Sierra Leone, fund transport and accommodation for the team and training for health care workers.”

Motsoaledi said the department had enhanced surveillance, distributed guidelines to all hospitals, designated health facilities for the treatment of Ebola patients, deployed personal protective equipment to designated facilities, conducted training, activated outbreak response teams, and was operating a hotline for clinicians through the National Institute for Communicable Diseases.

Precautions against contracting Ebola

There is no vaccine or specific treatment for Ebola, and many people who get the disease die. It is therefore important to take steps to prevent Ebola.

Travellers can become infected if they come into contact with the blood or bodily fluids of someone who is sick or has died from Ebola, sick wildlife or meat from an infected animal.

Health care providers caring for Ebola patients, and family and friends in close contact with an ill person, are at highest risk of contracting Ebola.

People travelling to one of the identified high-risk countries are advised to do the following:

  • Practice careful hygiene. Avoid contact with blood and bodily fluids of sick persons.
  • Do not handle items that may have come in contact with an infected person’s blood or bodily fluids.
  • Avoid funeral or burial rituals that require handling the body of someone who has died from Ebola.
  • Avoid contact with wild animals or with bush meat.
  • Avoid hospitals where Ebola patients are being treated. The South African Embassy or consulate is often able to provide advice on facilities that are suitable for your needs.
  • Seek medical care immediately if you develop fever, headache, achiness, sore throat, diarrhoea, vomiting, stomach pain, rash, or red eyes.
  • Limit your contact with other people when you travel to the doctor.