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August 20, 2014

Ebola Outbreak Threatens Africa Travel

airlineThe Ebola virus outbreak, which so far has claimed an estimated 1,229 lives out of 2,240 suspected or confirmed cases, is beginning to have a negative impact on Africa's tourism industry, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Travelers are expressing even expressing concerns about traveling to countries that are far from the affected region, such as Kenya and South Africa. "'Ebola is in Africa.' That is what they're saying," Barry Hurter, the chief executive of ERM Tours in South Africa, told the Wall Street Journal, speaking of a Thai insurance company's decision to cancel an incentive trip for the company's top earners. "We told them that Europe is actually closer to these countries than South Africa, but geography didn't help."

Air Travel

Official word on the risk of the Ebola virus to air travel has been mixed. In a tweet released August 14, the World Health Organization (WHO) described air travel, even from affected countries, as "low-risk."

Nevertheless, the UN health agency has called for exit screening at certain international airports, sea ports and major ground crossings. The WHO also said that anyone showing symptoms consistent with the virus should not be allowed to travel normally. 

"Transmission requires direct contact with blood, secretions, organs or other body fluids of infected living or dead persons or animals, all unlikely exposures for the average traveler," the agency said in a statement. 

Worries over the outbreak have caused several flight cancellations. 

Korean Air Lines has cancelled flights to Kenya due to fear of the disease, the Wall Street Journal reports. 

Additionally, in early August both British Airways and Emirates Airline have cancelled flights out of the affected countries in West Africa. 

Affected Countries

According to a statement released by the WHO on Wednesday, the outbreak continues to be confined to four countries in West Africa: Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone. 

"The situation in Lagos, Nigeria, where the first imported case was detected in July, looks reassuring," the WHO said. "At present, the city’s 12 confirmed cases are all part of a single chain of transmission."

The WHO report also scribed the outbreak in Guinea as "less alarming than in Liberia and Sierra Leone," citing higher public awareness about Ebola and the cooperation of local leaders. 

In Liberia, the situation has been more serious as residents Wednesday attempted to storm a barbed-wire barricade to break out of the quarantined West Point neighborhood in Monrovia, the New York Times reports. Soldiers forced the crowd back with live gunfire. Thus far, there have been 576 deaths in Liberia due to the disease, and the strain of dealing with known and suspected cases has brought the local health care system near to collapse. 

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