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EU Pledges to Toughen Ebola Screening

  • Lisa Bryant

European Union Health Commissioner Tonio Borg (R) and Italy's Health Minister Beatrice Lorenzin address a press conference following a EU ministerial coordination meeting on EU public health measures on the Ebola epidemic, Brussels, Oct. 16, 2014.

European Union Health Commissioner Tonio Borg (R) and Italy's Health Minister Beatrice Lorenzin address a press conference following a EU ministerial coordination meeting on EU public health measures on the Ebola epidemic, Brussels, Oct. 16, 2014.

European Union nations have promised to toughen screening measures for Ebola, and to forge a common approach in fighting the deadly virus at exit and entry points.

Meeting in Brussels for emergency talks on the Ebola crisis, health ministers from the 28-member European Union say they want to strengthen exit screening as necessary at airports in the three hardest hit West African nations: Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

They also promised to better coordinate Ebola screenings and informational campaigns at EU entry points, especially airports and ports. Britain recently established airport screening procedures and France begins screening airline passengers on Saturday, at the Charles de Gaulle airport outside Paris.

A key message came from Italian Health Minister Beatrice Lorenzin, trying to reassuring Europeans that their governments are doing what it takes in fighting Ebola at home.

"So we want to reassure our citizens, but we need to give the clear information with transparency," said Lorenzin. his is very important for us and so it is important to coordinate our actions and plans in Europe and out of Europe."

The World Health Organization says Ebola outbreak has already infected nearly 9,000 people and killed about 4,500. It says in a worst-case scenario, infections could reach 10,000 people a week by December.

Most of the victims are in West Africa, but Europe and the United States have experienced several cases. On Thursday, an Air France plane was isolated at an airport in Madrid, after a passenger traveling from Nigeria was reported to have fever and shivers. He was taken to a Madrid hospital for further checks.

Still, health officials say the risk of a serious Ebola outbreak in Europe is extremely low - a message echoed by Doctors Without Borders' Ebola operations director, Brice de la Vigne

"Ebola is not very complicated but requires a very big discipline and some specific measures that I think most European countries can take very quickly. But it requires some adaptation," said a Vigne. "And that's why it's 'normal' to see some cases, but then the system needs to be adapted properly and to have a very strong response."

Critics are quick to point out the holes in airport screening procedures. The Ebola virus has an incubation period of 21 days, for example - which means someone who has contracted the virus may pass the screenings with no apparent symptoms - and fall ill later.

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