Ebola crisis: Australia imposes visa ban on affected countries as returning US soldiers returning from West Africa are isolated

The latest measures have been condemned by health authorities and the United Nations as extreme

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The Independent Online

Australia has imposed a visa ban on countries affected by Ebola, amid global anxiety about the spread of the virus.

The move comes as the US military has started isolating soldiers returning from a response mission in West Africa.

The latest measures, along with decisions by some US states to impose mandatory quarantines on health workers returning home from treating Ebola victims, have been condemned by health authorities and the United Nations as extreme.

Australia has not recorded a case of Ebola despite a number of scares and Prime Minister Tony Abbott has so far resisted repeated requests to send medical personnel to help battle the outbreak on the ground.

However, on Monday it was announced that the country would temporarily refuse entry for anyone from Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.

While touted by the government as a necessary safety precaution, the decision was criticised by experts and advocates as politically motivated and short-sighted.


Immigration minister Scott Morrison told parliament: “The government has strong controls for the entry of persons to Australia under our immigration programme from West Africa.

“These measures include temporarily suspending our immigration programme, including our humanitarian programme from Ebola-affected countries, and this means we are not processing any application from these affected countries.”

All non-permanent or temporary visas were being cancelled and permanent visa holders who had not yet arrived in Australia will be required to submit to a 21-day quarantine period, he added.

Adam Kamradt-Scott, a senior lecturer at the University of Sydney's Marie Bashir Institute for Infectious Diseases and Biosecurity, told Reuters the ban would do nothing to protect the country from Ebola while potentially having a negative public health impact by unduly raising fears and creating a general climate of panic.

Meanwhile, officials said on Monday that US soldiers returning from West Africa are being isolated, even though they showed no symptoms of infection and were not believed to have been exposed to the deadly virus.

Health workers carry the body of a suspected Ebola victim in Bomi county on the outskirts of Monrovia, Liberia

In a statement, the Army said Chief of Staff General Raymond Odierno ordered the 21-day monitoring period for returning soldiers “to ensure soldiers, family members and their surrounding communities are confident that we are taking all steps necessary to protect their health.”

The decision goes well beyond previously established military protocols and came just as President Barack Obama's administration sought to discourage precautionary quarantines being imposed by some US states on healthcare workers returning from countries battling Ebola.

Doctor Jeff Duchin, Washington State epidemiologist and chairman of the public health committee of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, told Reuters: “From a public health perspective, we would not feel that isolation is appropriate.”

More than 10,000 cases of Ebola have now been recorded as the virus continues to spread through West Africa. Out of the cases recorded in eight affected countries, almost 5,000 patients have died, with Liberia the worst hit.

Additional reporting by Reuters