SAA still flying to West Africa

Johannesburg - South African Airways on Wednesday said the decision to continue flying to West Africa, in light of the Ebola outbreak, is consistent with the position adopted by the World Health Organisation and the International Air Transport Association.

Spokesperson Tlali Tlali said the emergency committee of the WHO on the Ebola outbreak held a meeting and concluded that "there should be no general ban on international travel or trade" to the region.

"Having noted the announcement by the WHO, SAA has stepped up measures aimed at protecting its passengers, crew and ground staff," he said in a statement.

"The measures include ensuring that the airline has in place vigilant staff that will be on the lookout for passengers who bear specific and visible symptoms associated with the Ebola virus."

Tlali said the SAA staff were adequately trained to manage incidents of this nature, should a need to do so arise.

He said cases where a passenger may bear visible symptoms associated with the infection at check-in, such passengers would be isolated with others.

This would be followed by passenger interviews and tests conducted by health authorities to determine the possible cause of the symptoms.

"In the event that there is any doubt regarding the medical condition of any suspected passenger, SAA may elect to deny such passenger/s to board its aircraft," said Tlali.

"In cases where passengers develop symptoms after the aircraft has commenced its flight, the crew on board will initiate specific procedures that include isolating such passengers from others on board the aircraft."

He said this would eliminate possible physical interaction of affected passengers with the rest of the passengers.

Special protective gear

The virus was not airborne and no transmission may occur due to air circulation in the cabin, it was transmitted through infected bodily fluids of a sick passenger, he said.

"Once isolated, such passengers may not present a risk to fellow passengers as the Ebola virus is not transmitted in the air, but through body fluids such as blood and saliva among others," Tlali said.

SAA aircraft have been equipped with special protective gear for crew on board to wear.

Tlali said there was also a special biohazard waste disposal kit for the safe disposal of waste.

SAA would continue to fly to five destinations in West Africa, including Abidjan in Ivory Coast, Accra in Ghana, Cotonou in Benin, Dakar in Senegal and Lagos in Nigeria.

Tlali said there was no travel ban to any of these destinations as a result of the Ebola outbreak.

"SAA will remain in communication with its local health authorities and will monitor the situation on a continuous basis," he said.

"This will enable the airline to constantly do risk assessment and review its decisions should there be developments that warrant such a review."

Agence France-Presse reported on Wednesday that the epidemic, the worst since Ebola was first discovered four decades ago, has killed more than 1 000 people since early this year, according to the World Health Organisation.