A World Health Organization (WHO) employee who has contracted Ebola arrived in Germany Wednesday, the first patient with the virus to be treated in the country, officials said.
A plane carrying the patient — a Senegalese epidemiologist who was infected in Sierra Leone — touched down at the airport of the northern city of Hamburg and was to be taken to a hospital isolation ward.
A convoy of police and fire brigade vehicles was to guard the specially equipped ambulance on its way to the University Hospital Hamburg-Eppendorf, which specialises in treating contagious diseases.
Meanwhile, French flag carrier Air France said it was suspending its flights to Sierra Leone from Thursday, amid an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus in West Africa.
Wednesday’s announcement followed a recommendation from French authorities to “temporarily suspend” its services to Freetown given the way the epidemic was developing and the state of the health systems there.
“Given the way the epidemic has evolved and the situation of the health systems … the public authorities recommend to Air France that it temporarily suspends its services to Freetown,” a statement said after a cabinet meeting in Paris.
Meanwhile, in Cote d’Ivoire, rumours that Ebola epidemic had reached the country has rapidly spread by late-night phone calls and prompting scared villagers to drink salted water.
“This is due to one gentleman’s revelation,” said Siamou Kobenan in the northern village of Kotouba. “He told us that the virus had come to the country and that we should take salt and drink it, and rub our bodies so the disease goes away.”
Cote d’Ivoire is officially free of the highly contagious and incurable haemorrhagic fever, which was detected in neighbouring Guinea in March and has claimed almost 1,500 lives there and in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.
But superstition often prevails when it comes to prophecies. “If somebody is gifted with foresight, we can’t not believe him,” Mr Kobenan, a farmer, told AFP. “For the moment, we’ve had no Ebola problem in Kotouba,” he added, seeking to justify the massive use of salt, which has caused a different epidemic among local people, hard-hit by diarrhoea.
The conviction that salt combats the virus, which was formally identified about four months after it first struck in Guinea, is no mere fad in a remote northern village.
Residents of the poorer parts of the sprawling economic capital Abidjan, located on the southern coast, have taken up the practice as well.
“Everybody is saying to drink salted water or even eat onions against Ebola,” Abidjan trader Evariste Kouassi said, describing these notions as “madness” provoked by mass hysteria.
Health officials and the government have long been on the alert since the outbreak was identified in March on Guinean territory just 150 kilometres from the Ivorian border.
Last Friday, Abidjan closed its land borders with Guinea, where 407 people have died according to the UN World Health Organisation (WHO), and with Liberia, which has registered 624 deaths, including among patients in a district near the frontier.
In practice, the borders have unofficially been closed for several weeks, as Ivorian authorities scaled up their response to the viral epidemic that has claimed the lives of more than one in two patients — as well as among health workers, according to the WHO. Conversations about the frightening disease, which causes unstoppable bleeding and the collapse of vital organs in its agonising final stages, are rife in Abidjan.
Meanwhile, media outlets are suggesting preventative measures, which notably include avoiding any physical contact with the sick and feverish. After banning the common practice of eating bush meat — fruit bats are held to be a vector for the virus — Abidjan suspended air flights to affected countries and banned all international sports events within the country.
Cote d’Ivoire had been due to host a qualifying soccer match in the Africa Cup of Nations against Sierra Leone in Abidjan on September 6, but today nobody knows where the game will take place.
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