Background

Countries affected by the Ebola virus are Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone. The total number of reported probable, confirmed and suspected cases up to 17th October 2014 is 8,997, with 4,493 deaths.

Three countries, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, currently have high transmission levels. Countries with an initial case/s or with localised transmission are Nigeria and Senegal. Neighbouring countries where transmission may be possible are Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d’lvoire, Guinea-Bissau, Mali and Senegal. Cases have also been identified in the US, Spain and Germany.

The outbreak has an overall fatality rate of 49%and is a very serious illness.

However, the threat of Ebola reaching St Helena or Ascension is extremely low. The measures put in place in the UK and South Africa coupled with the work locally mean that we are well placed to deal with the Ebola threat.

The UK Government has launched a humanitarian effort to help with the outbreak. Both British military and humanitarian staff have arrived in Freetown, Sierra Leone, to oversee the construction of the UK’s medical facility and assist with the response to the outbreak.

Flights to Sierra Leone are transiting through Ascension Island, which is being used as a forward mounting base for the humanitarian operation and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

The Ascension Island Government (AIG) has received assurances from the HQ British Forces South Atlantic that any flights returning to Ascension from Sierra Leone, having delivered personnel or supplies, would present no onward risk when they transit Ascension, as there would be no risk to the aircraft or crew when landing at Freetown. In addition, they have taken appropriate precautionary measures including that the crew remain with aircraft, do not plan a stopover and that they refrain from shaking hands with local population (as directed by World Health Organisation)

Q&A EBOLA

 

  1. How big a threat is Ebola?

 

  • Currently the threat of Ebola reaching St Helena or Ascension is low.
  • There are no reported outbreaks in South Africa, the UK, St Helena or Ascension Island.
  • Our focus is very much on prevention at this time but with good contingency plans also in place.
  • We are consistently reviewing the situation and our response will change in line with the threat.

 

  1. What are St Helena and Ascension Island doing in response?

 

  • St Helena has formed a cross-government Tactical Coordination Group, chaired at Deputy Chief Secretary level which meets regularly to plan for the changing profile of the Ebola threat.  Several stakeholders are involved in this meeting to ensure a coordinated response to the issue.  Ascension is finalising its Ebola response plan and preparing for all contingencies.
  • SHG is working closely with Andrew Weir Shipping to ensure that all passengers on board the RMS are subject to enhanced checks to protect both the RMS and the islands she serves.
  • SHG is also working with Basil Read to ensure that crew on board the NP Glory 4 are subject to the same checks as other visiting vessels to the Island.
  • Additional measures are in place in the harbour and at immigration control in both Ascension and St Helena to ensure that crew of other vessels arriving in our waters are all screened for potential exposure to Ebola.
  • These measures are on top of our regular protocols such as the maritime declaration of health form which is always required from larger visiting vessels.

 

  1. Will Ebola reach St Helena or Ascension Island?

 

  • We believe the preventative measures in place in St Helena and Ascension mean that the risk of Ebola reaching either Island is very remote.
  • The work being done by South Africa, the UK as well as St Helena and Ascension Islands means the risk is reduced still further.
  • If Ebola is reported in any of the countries where the RMS or any other visiting vessel travels from local responses would change and we are prepared for this.

 

  1. What will we do if Ebola does reach St Helena?

 

  • Currently the threat of Ebola reaching St Helena is low.
  • There are no reported outbreaks in South Africa, the UK or Ascension Island.
  • Our focus is very much on prevention at this time but with good contingency planning also in place.
  • Should a case of Ebola be found in St Helena the Health Directorate has a contingency plan and protocols in place to ensure that the community is protected.

 

  1. What will we do if Ebola does reach Ascension Island?

 

  • Currently the threat of Ebola reaching Ascension is low.  The measures the MOD have put in place with regard to the arriving flights from Sierra Leone both in Freetown and locally mean we are confident the risk of any onward transmission is minimal.
  • There are no reported outbreaks in South Africa, the UK or St Helena.
  • Our focus is very much on prevention at this time but with good contingency planning also in place.
  • Should a case of Ebola be found in Ascension the hospital has plans and protocols in place to deal to ensure that the community is protected. AIG is working closely with the UK Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office Ebola Taskforce to prepare for all eventualities.

 

  1. What is the current situation regarding the RMS from Cape Town and what measures are in place to protect the public?

 

  • As part of the Tactical Coordination Groups plan passengers and crew travelling from Cape Town are required to complete screening questionnaires prior embarkation. This covers issues such as travel to high risk countries and if the traveller has a fever.
  • The medical staff on the RMS have been briefed regarding the symptoms and will investigate any concerns
  • Upon arrival at St Helena travellers are asked to inform the immigration officer if they have visited any of the high risk countries in the last 30 days
  • Should the RMS crew have any concerns then the islands Senior Medical Officer is contacted to complete an assessment prior to landing
  • The Tactical Coordination Group are routinely monitoring the process to ensure that it is robust

 

 

  1. There are planes from the infected areas landing at Ascension Island as part of the UK humanitarian effort. Isn’t this a threat to Ascension Island residents?

 

  • As part of the humanitarian operation the UK is sending planes to Sierra Leone via Ascension Island.  The Ministry of Defence has put in place robust preventative measures to ensure their UK staff and others working on, or in, the planes are well protected against any transmission of the disease.
  • The WHO and Public Health England have advised that personnel on these flights do not pose additional risk to warrant any quarantine or isolation measures.
  • Flights arriving at Ascension from Sierra Leone, as part of the humanitarian operation take off and land in controlled conditions in both Ascension and Sierra Leone.  The flight crew who are running shuttles between Ascension and Freetown do not leave the plane at Freetown.
  • While the risk of aircraft crew being infected is extremely remote, appropriate precautionary measures are being taken. Crew remain on the aircraft in Sierra Leone, no stop-overs are planned in Freetown and crew are being asked to refrain from contact with local people.

 

  1. What are SHG and AIG doing to protect the public with regard to flights to Ascension?

 

  • SHG and AIG are coordinating the response to the flights into Ascension.
  • We are working closely with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Ministry of Defence, the Cabinet Office Civil Contingencies Unit and public health England to ensure agreed procedures are being robustly followed and monitored.

 

 

SHG

17October 2014

 

 

 

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