Malta airport undertaking ‘necessary precautions’ in case of suspicious Ebola cases

EU health ministers in Brussels to debate entry screening for Ebola

Malta’s international airport is implementing the necessary precautions in the eventuality that a passenger exhibiting suspicious symptoms of Ebola is identified at the terminal.

Although Malta does not have any direct traffic from affected countries, Malta International Airport is in talks with Port Health Services to assure that any training needs, emergency procedures and required resources are in place, an MIA spokesperson confirmed.

The spokesperson was replying to MaltaToday’s questions on whether MIA was going to start screening passengers from Ebola-affected countries.

EU health ministers today gathered in Brussels to discuss the introduction of entry screening for potential Ebola carriers. But experts are divided on the usefulness of entry screening given the difficulty in determining whether an early symptom-like fever is due to Ebola or any of numerous other ailments.

Ebola, experts say, has an incubation period of up to 21 days between infection and symptoms. The likelihood of someone getting sick between leaving Africa and arriving in Europe is relatively small.

"The possibility of a traveler with Ebola returning to the EU before becoming sick, or while sick, remains low, but cannot be excluded," the EU health agency said in a statement. "Discussions are ongoing on whether there is an added value in screening incoming travelers at EU borders."

Travellers leaving the nations worst hit by Ebola are already being scrutinized by health experts upon their departure. But only Britain and the United Sates imposed additional screening on passengers entering their territories. The UK first introduced screening at its Heathrow airport: passengers on a flight that left Liberia for Brussels with transfers coming into Heathrow had their temperatures checked and filled in a health questionnaire at Terminal 1 on Tuesday.

MIA’s spokesperson said that the Directorate for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention was responsible for enforcing the necessary provisions for trans-border control of infectious diseases.

“Port Health Services have established a communicable disease notification procedure for our operations staff which is also distributed to airline staff, and ground handlers. This protocol has been heightened for Ebola,” she said.

The infectious disease has already killed more than 4,000 people in West Africa.

The spokesperson said that MIA was “communicating actively” with the authorities to ensure that the necessary precautions are implemented and that the Airport is prepared in the event that a passenger exhibiting suspected symptoms of Ebola is identified in the terminal.

“Despite not having any direct traffic from affected territories, Malta International Airport is working with Port Health Services to assure that any training needs, emergency procedures and required resources are in place,” she said.

The EU leaders are expected to take part in a video conference call with US President Barack Obama to co-ordinate their response to the outbreak, euObserver reported.

"We are not recommending entry screening as such by member states, but it's up to them," a commission official told reporters on Wednesday.

The official was reported as saying that “as bad as the outbreak is, it is still localised in three countries” – Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

The European Union has so far pledged €180 million to these three countries while member states have pledged to provide a further €300 million.

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