KINGSTON – The Jamaican government yesterday issued a ban on people travelling to Jamaica from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone in response to the deadly Ebola outbreak in West Africa and after local health authorities quarantined a couple who arrived in Montego Bay on Wednesday.
According to the health ministry, the decision to quarantine the couple was made Wednesday night during a screening process at Sangster International Airport when it was determined that one member of the couple recently travelled from Liberia via the United States.
Dr Marion Bullock Ducasse, acting chief medical officer, was reported as saying that the couple was sent home yesterday and that neither of them displayed any symptoms of Ebola. As such, there was no risk involved.
“They were monitored by senior public health officials during their quarantine in Jamaica,” Bullock Ducasse was quoted in a news release from the health ministry.
“The incubation period for Ebola is two to 21 days and during incubation persons cannot transmit the virus.”
Described as a haemorrhagic virus, Ebola has spread quickly in West Africa, killing more than 4,400 people in the world’s largest and most complex outbreak to date.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) said that Ebola first appeared in 1976 in two simultaneous outbreaks – one in Nzara, Sudan, and the other in Yambuku, Democratic Republic of Congo. The latter occurred in a village near the Ebola River, from which the disease takes its name.
The first cases in the current outbreak were reported in March this year.
Yesterday, the Jamaican government explained that the travel ban extends to people living in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone as well as individuals, including Commonwealth citizens, who have travelled to, or transited through all three countries.
“CARICOM nationals benefiting from the free movement regime are also subject to this landing restriction, which is a temporary measure necessary for the protection of human and animal health,” the government said in a news release.
It added that Jamaicans who have travelled to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone within 28 days of their arrival here “will be quarantined in the interest of public health and national security upon their arrival in Jamaica”.
The government explained that it has imposed the travel ban under Section 6 Of The Aliens Act and Section 4 Of The Immigration Restriction (Commonwealth Citizens) Act, which provides the criteria for the eligibility for admission of aliens to Jamaica and prohibited immigrants, respectively.
Jamaica’s response, the government said, is informed by the WHO guidance for control of outbreaks.
“The Jamaican government acknowledges the serious threat of the Ebola virus and has taken these measures in the interest of countering the threat to public health and national security,” the administration said.
Last week, the WHO and partner organisations agreed on a range of core actions to support countries unaffected by Ebola.
“Building on national and international existing preparedness efforts, a set of tools is being developed to help any country to intensify and accelerate their readiness,” the WHO said in a news release.
“One of these tools is a comprehensive checklist of core principles, standards, capacities and practices, which all countries should have or meet. The checklist can be used by countries to assess their level of preparedness, guide their efforts to strengthen themselves and to request assistance.
“Items on the checklist include infection prevention control, contact tracing, case management, surveillance, laboratory capacity, safe burial, public awareness and community engagement and national legislation and regulation to support country readiness,” the WHO added.
Dr Luis Sambo, the WHO regional director for Africa, said: “While we rightly focus on stopping the outbreak in affected countries, we should not forget that all other countries are at risk, albeit at varying levels.”
The WHO said its initial focus of support will be on highest priority countries – Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea Bissau, Mali and Senegal – followed by high priority countries, namely Benin, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gambia, Ghana, Mauritania, Nigeria, South Sudan, and Togo.
The criteria used to prioritise countries include geographical proximity to affected countries, trade and migration patterns and strength of health systems, the WHO said.