No-fly decisions by airlines are causing logistical problems that threaten to deepen the impact of the Ebola crisis, according to charities desperate to get personnel and equipment to West Africa.
A Save the Children spokesperson told The Independent: “The main way to defeat the spread of Ebola is to make sure that we can get health workers into the region because they’re not going to have enough capability in these countries themselves. Transportation routes, including flights, need to be maintained to ensure health professionals get access to the affected countries.”
Wednesday’s arrivals screen at Lungi International Airport outside Freetown in Sierra Leone displayed the extent of the problem. Two flights, from Lagos and Banjul, were shown as being operated by Arik Air - though that airline, based in Nigeria, had abandoned flights to Freetown in July. Another arrival, from Accra on Eagle Atlantic Airlines, was also a ghost flight: “We do not have the necessary data sources to detect the arrival or departure of this flight,” reported FlightStats.com.
Three further flights were shown as arriving on time, but only one aircraft actually touched down, the early evening arrival from Conakry in Guinea operated by Brussels Airlines. The Belgian flight also carries the code of Lufthansa and United, which explains why three flights are listed.
See the Ebola outbreak mapped
See the Ebola outbreak mapped
1/7 25 March 2014
This outbreak of the Ebola virus first emerged in the Guéckédou region of Guinea, at a crossroads with both Liberia and Sierra Leone
2/7 31 March
On 31 March the WHO confirmed the outbreak was now international, spreading first into Liberia's northern-most Lofa region
3/7 27 May
The virus spread to Sierra Leone at the end of May - just as agencies were hoping the worst was over
4/7 27 July
In Sierra Leone the virus boomed, and then it spread to Nigeria when the Liberian diplomat Patrick Sawyer flew from Monrovia to Lagos
5/7 9 August
The Nigeria cases sparked fears around the world, and there have now been deaths in Spain and Saudi Arabia involving people who had travelled to West Africa. The numbers of cases continue to rise
6/7 17-20 September
In mid-September, Senegal confirmed its first case linked to the Ebola outbreak, a development the WHO described as a top priority emergency. Numbers of cases continued to grow exponentially in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, as experts warned they could number one million by January if not contained
7/7 8 October
Two cases of Ebola have now been reported in the US and Europe - the first times the virus has been contracted among health workers outside Africa
The next arrival, from Brussels, is not expected until Sunday. Aid workers aboard the Airbus A330 will be flying with tickets bought at premium prices: the cheapest Heathrow-Brussels-Freetown fare for Sunday is £1,251, for a journey of just over 3,000 miles.
British Airways suspended flights to Sierra Leone and Liberia in August, citing “concerns about the public health situation in both countries”. The airline previously flew from Heathrow to both Freetown and Liberia four times a week.
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Air France ended its flights to Freetown at the same time, after staff expressed unhappiness about flying to areas infected with Ebola.
Roberts International Airport, east of the Liberian capital, Monrovia, has almost shut down.
NGOs rely on commercial airlines during emergencies, both to carry medical staff to the affected region and to provide cargo space for essential equipment.
Flights from Europe to Ghana and Nigeria continue to operate as normal, but overland movement of people and equipment from Accra and Lagos to the Ebola-affected nations is fraught with problems.
In a separate development, the Foreign Office issued fresh travel advice to Uganda warning of the death of a health worker from Marburg virus - a haemorrhagic fever with a high mortality rate. The victim had been working at a hospital in Kampala. The FCO bulletin said: “Other suspected cases are being investigated.”Reuse content