Travellers to fill in passenger cards as from next week

Parliamentary secretary for health Chris Fearne updates parliament on Malta’s Ebola preparedness measures

Parliamentary secretary for health Chris Fearne announced that air and sea passengers entering Malta will be asked to fill in a passenger card.

The measure will be implemented as from next week. Passengers will be asked to state whether they had been in Liberia, Guinea or Sierra Leone in the past 21 days.

“People giving incorrect information could face criminal action,” Fearne said, adding that passengers coming from one of these countries would be tested and kept under observation or in quarantine.

A national drill will take place in November.

Briefing parliament on a European Council meeting tackling Ebola, Fearne said the European Commission was clear in that it was up to the member states to decide how to tackle Ebola. However, the Commission would take on the role of “coordinator”.

Thursday’s high level meeting focused on screening at Europe’s borders and it was agreed that there should be reinforcement of exit screening measures of passengers departing from countries worst hit by the disease.

Over 4,000 people have died since the outbreak of the disease while over 9,000 cases of suspected or confirmed Ebola cases were registered. The worst hit countries were Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

The United States and the United Kingdom were the first countries to implement screening measures on passengers entering their country, having traveled from West Africa.

“On Malta’s suggestion, the Commission will investigate the possibility of joint procurement, between EU states, of protective clothing and medicines,” Fearne told parliament.

The European Union has so far committed €180 million in aid to the Ebola-hit countries.

Malta has undertaken a number of preventive measures, including the setting up of an Ebola virus disease monitoring committee (EVDMC), monitoring of the international situation, informing the general public, standard operating procedures, preparation procedures at points of entry – ports and airport – training sessions for nurses and disciplined forces among others.

Recenlty, the Malta Union of Midwives and Nurses (MUMN) expressed concern over the “overconfidence” expressed by the Health Division over the hospitals’ preparedness to tackle suspected cases of Ebola.

Fearne however said that, in the remote possibility of an Ebola case, contingency plans in every health sector were implemented. “These plans ensure that cases are treated effectively and with the least risk that the infection is transmitted from one person to another,” he said.

Fearne said that patients would be transferred to the Infectious Disease Unit (IDU) at Mater Dei, where two wards were specifically set up. The ward has a specialised ventilation system and is equipped with CCTV.

Intensive training programmes were carried out, where training included both one-to-one training and a competency assessment.

Regulars meetings are taking place between the hospital’s management, the workers and their unions.

The parliamentary secretary for health also said that an interim Ebola contingency plan was launched in Gozo, listing a plan of action in case of a suspected case.

Replying to the MUMN’s concerns that the Gozo General Hospital was not planned to tackle such an issue, Fearne confirmed that the two isolation rooms had been indentified and upgrading works and the procurement of equipment was being carried out.

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