Cyprus Mail
Cyprus Health

Health minister ‘not worried’ about Ebola outbreak

By Stefanos Evripidou

MEASURES implemented at ports and airports to tackle a potential outbreak of the Ebola virus have now been extended to the crossing points on the island’s dividing line, Health minister Philippos Patsalis said yesterday.

Speaking to public broadcaster CyBC, he said “The possibility of a case (of the virus) in the occupied areas concerns us, and for this reason we have given instructions that the measures we took at the ports and airports, also be enforced (from yesterday) at the checkpoints.”

The north is believed to have around 45,000 students in its tertiary education sector. According to the Turkish Cypriot Gazete360 news portal, a significant number of the 5,000 who hail from West Africa are Nigerian.

Patsalis noted that the Republic’s action plan against the spread of the virus will be applied throughout the island, after the 30-page plan was handed over to the Turkish Cypriot community through the bicommunal technical committee on health issues.

The role of the technical committees, part of the two communities’ confidence building measures, is to facilitate cooperation between the two sides, particularly among public services.

In 2012, the two committees agreed on a mechanism for communication in case of an outbreak of communicable diseases.

The minister confirmed that the ministry responded positively to a request from the Turkish Cypriot authorities on the issue.

“We maintain contact with the authorities of the pseudostate. We offered them help. We gave them the action plan we have prepared and we will keep in contact regarding any changes in the plan in the coming days,” he said.

In statements to the Cyprus News Agency (CNA), Patsalis said: “We do not see any possible danger from the occupied areas at the moment.”

He noted that those who cross to the government-controlled areas are Turkish Cypriots, not students from high-risk countries.

The minister further highlighted that no suspicious cases have been identified in the occupied areas either, as the Turkish Cypriots are equally concerned about the issue. This is why the action plan prepared by the Republic’s medical and public health service was given to the Turkish Cypriot side in the event they need it, he added.

The existence of the action plan was announced by the ministry on Wednesday, quoting the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) as saying that the risk of the Ebola virus spreading to EU countries was low.

The WHO yesterday declared West Africa’s Ebola epidemic an “extraordinary event” which now constitutes an international health risk. The UN health agency called for a coordinated international response to stop and reverse the spread of Ebola, which has killed almost 1,000 people in four West African countries in the latest outbreak.

The Cypriot foreign ministry yesterday advised Cypriots to avoid non essential travel to Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea because of the Ebola outbreak.

In the event of their presence there, the ministry urged Cypriots to follow local or international news reports on the developments on the issue and ministry’s website.

Nigeria, which recorded its first Ebola case two weeks ago, yesterday declared a state of emergency.

Patsalis yesterday was eager to reassure the public that there was no cause for concern in Cyprus.

Cyprus has implemented all WHO directives regarding Ebola and there is no reason for concern, he said, adding that the ministry remains in close contact and cooperation with the organisation.

Two video-conference calls were held at the ministry with the WHO yesterday and on Thursday.

Instructions have been given to the foreign ministry as well as to travellers, while guidelines have been prepared for health professionals on how to identify suspected cases at ports and airports and on the steps that should be taken if symptoms of the disease are identified.

Patsalis said that so far there is no recommendation from WHO on control measures at points of entry in EU member states and even no restrictions on entry and exit from countries where Ebola cases have been diagnosed.

This alone, he said, shows that “we are not in a state of emergency”.

“At present, we want to reassure that there is no worry. All appropriate measures have been taken, as in other EU countries. We remain on alert, if anything arises, to tackle it in coordination with other ministries,” he said.

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