Fears that the west African Ebola outbreak could spread to other continents grew on Wednesday with European and Asian countries on alert and a leading medical charity warning the epidemic was out of control.
Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said the crisis gripping Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone would only get worse and warned there was no overarching strategy to handle the world’s worst-ever outbreak of the disease.
Hong Kong announced quarantine measures for suspected cases, although one woman arriving from Africa with possible symptoms tested negative, while the EU said it was ready to deal with the threat.
The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) has held talks with global health officials on potential measures to halt the spread of the disease. In Britain, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond chaired the government’s COBRA crisis management committee to assess the situation, although only one person has tested negative for the disease.
“The prime minister does regard it as a very serious threat,” Hammond said. “We are very much focused on it as a new and emerging threat which we need to deal with.” He said the emergency meeting had decided that the best approach was to provide “additional resources to deal with the disease at source” in west Africa.
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Ebola can kill victims within days, causing severe fever and muscle pain, vomiting, diarrhoea and, in some cases, organ failure and unstoppable bleeding. Since March, there have been 1,201 cases of Ebola and 672 deaths in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, according to theWorld Health Organisation (WHO).
The European Union is equipped and ready to treat victims should the deadly virus be found in its 28 member states, an EU source said in Brussels. “We cannot rule out the possibility that an infected person arrives in Europe but the EU has the means to track and contain any outbreak rapidly,” the source said.
The isolation and negative testing of a suspected case in Valencia in Spain showed that the “system worked”, added the source. “The level of contamination on the ground is extremely worrying and we need to scale up our action before many more lives are lost,” said EU Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva.
In Hong Kong, a densely populated city previously scarred by disease outbreaks such as the 2003 SARS epidemic, health officials confirmed they would quarantine as a precautionary measure any visitors from Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia who showed fever symptoms.