Fearne: Low risk of Ebola outbreak in Malta but all precautions being taken

Parliamentary secretary for health says risks of Ebola reaching Malta are remote but reassures all necessary precautions being taken

Parliamentary Secretary for Health Chris Fearne addressed a press briefing about the precuations being taken by the Maltese Health Authorities on the Ebola Virus (Photo – DOI – Clodagh Farrugia O’Neill)
Parliamentary Secretary for Health Chris Fearne addressed a press briefing about the precuations being taken by the Maltese Health Authorities on the Ebola Virus (Photo – DOI – Clodagh Farrugia O’Neill)

Junior minister Chris Fearne today reassured that although Malta runs a very low risk of an Ebola outbreak, government was keeping abreast of developments in West Africa.

Fearne said that the risks of Ebola reaching Malta are small but government was taking all necessary precautions and keeping abreast with  the latest developments to ensure the country is prepared for all possible scenarios. 

Yesterday, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the Ebola outbreak in West Africa to be an international public health emergency that requires an extraordinary response to stop its spread.

"We are taking all precautions to ensure that we are prepared in the remote eventuality of somebody infected with ebola entering Malta. We are also taking all precautions at Mater Dei hospital to ensure that in the remote possibility of an outbreak in Malta, the best treatment is available and the rest of society is safe."

He said the precautions being taken by the health authorities in Malta are in line with the WHO recommendations. Stressing that so far no cases of Ebola have been reported in Malta, Fearne said that all authorities are taking all necessary action to ensure that no cases reach Malta. These include the screening of persons traveling to Malta from West African countries who are being urged to inform the authorities of their arrival before landing in Malta. 

"A few days ago a Maltese national flew back from Sierra Leone and upon his arrivals the person underwent the necessary tests and he is being monitored on a daily basis," Fearne said, adding that although the person is not infected health authorities will be monitoring him for 21 days. 

Test results are available on the same day they are performed and anyone arriving from countries which have had an outbreak will be kept at the airport before being given permission to return home, or receive treatment if infected. 

Ebola is only transmitted if one comes into direct contact with bodily fluids or blood of an infected person, however the virus cannot be transmitted by areosols or through water and food. 

The parliamentary secretary for health added that Ebola has been around for 40 years and over the years the few cases reported in Europe have been treated successfully. 

He also reassured that the highest risk of ebola reaching Malta was not through people arriving by sea but by people flying into Malta.  
Fearne said he was satisfied with the preparations underway and assured that that the facilities and precautions taken are of the highest standard. 

Earlier this week, WHO officials said a coordinated international response was essential to stop and reverse the spread of the virus. The announcement came after experts convened a two-day emergency meeting in Switzerland.

The UN health agency declared similar emergencies for the swine flu pandemic in 2009 and for polio in May.

The WHO chief, Margaret Chan, said the announcement on Friday is "a clear call for international solidarity" but acknowledged that many countries would probably not have any Ebola cases.

"Countries affected to date simply do not have the capacity to manage an outbreak of this size and complexity on their own,'' Chan said at a news conference in Geneva.

"I urge the international community to provide this support on the most urgent basis possible," she added.

The agency had convened an expert committee this week to assess the severity of the ongoing epidemic - the largest and longest in history. The current outbreak of Ebola began in Guinea in March and has since spread to Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

The WHO said the situation is likely to get worse in the coming months. There is no licenced treatment or vaccine for Ebola and the death rate has been about 50%.