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More flights suspended to Ebola-hit areas

By Agencies in Freetown, Sierra Leone and Geneva | China Daily | Updated: 2014-08-29 07:39

The three nations at the center of the West African Ebola outbreak were left increasingly isolated on Thursday as more airlines suspended flights to the crisis zone.

Air France has agreed to Paris' request for a "temporary suspension" of services to Sierra Leone, leaving its capital, Freetown, and Monrovia in neighboring Liberia with just one regular service - from Royal Air Morocco.

"In light of the analysis of the situation and as requested by the French government, Air France confirms it is maintaining its program of flights to and from Guinea and Nigeria," the flag carrier said on Wednesday.

Air France's decision came a day after British Airways said it was suspending flights to Liberia and Sierra Leone until next year due to Ebola concerns.

Health ministers from West African nations hit by Ebola were scheduled to gather in the Ghanaian capital, Accra, on Thursday to discuss responses to the epidemic.

Authorities in the worst-hit nations are scrambling to contain the most serious outbreak of the lethal tropical virus in history, which has killed more than 1,500 people since it erupted early this year.

The United Nations' envoy on Ebola, David Nabarro, took a swipe at airlines that have scrapped flights to Ebola-hit countries, saying earlier this week that the growing isolation "makes it difficult for the UN to do its work".

Brussels Airlines normally runs four flights a week to Liberia and Sierra Leone and three to Guinea, but has also canceled several services since Saturday due to the closure of the Senegalese border.

The company committed to providing three separate flights to Freetown, Monrovia and Conakry this week in response to passenger demand and to deliver 40 metric tons of medical supplies from the United Nations.

Only Royal Air Morocco has vowed to stick to its normal flight schedule - once a day to Conakry, and every other day on average to Monrovia and Freetown.

New WHO plan

"Our approach is supportive rather than mercenary," airline spokesman Hakim Challot said, adding: "From Casablanca, the takeup of seats to these three countries is extremely low, around 10 percent".

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa eventually could exceed 20,000 cases, more than six times as many as doctors know about now, the World Health Organization said on Thursday.

The agency published new figures saying that 1,552 people have died from the killer virus from among the 3,069 cases reported so far in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria. At least 40 percent of the cases have been in just the last three weeks, the UN health agency said, adding that "the outbreak continues to accelerate".

In Geneva, the WHO also released a new plan for handling the Ebola crisis that aims to stop Ebola transmission in affected countries within six to nine months and prevent it from spreading internationally.

Dr Bruce Aylward, the WHO's assistant director-general, told reporters the plan will cost $489 million over the next nine months and require the assistance of 750 foreign workers and 12,000 local workers.

AP - Reuters - AFP

More flights suspended to Ebola-hit areas

(China Daily 08/29/2014 page11)

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