Ottawa is restricting travel from seven African countries to ease concerns about the security of people linked to Ebola after recent cases of the deadly virus across the region.
The minister of international development, Marie-Claude Bibeau, said on Thursday that Canada would ban travel from Sierra Leone, Guinea, Mali, Liberia, Senegal and Nigeria “due to the risk of Ebola”.
A letter sent to travelers from Canada’s consular general in Dakar, the capital of Senegal, said Canada “is not supporting any traveller who is a member of or has visited a country in the Ebola response effort in West Africa”.
“These limitations are part of our risk mitigation efforts and do not reflect any change in the risk to Canada from the Ebola virus,” Bibeau said. “This decision has been taken on the basis of the work undertaken by the [International Development Agency] IANA, its assessment of risks to Canadians and other global interests.”
The World Health Organization declared an international public health emergency in August, after an Ebola outbreak in Guinea and Sierra Leone killed 11,314 people, or 65%, of those affected. However, recent cases in Nigeria, Senegal and Liberia have raised concerns that global efforts to control the virus are not working.
Public health officials have recently discovered two additional strains of the virus, which may mean that new efforts to find a vaccine are not fully effective, although there is no consensus yet about the virus’s length of range or potential cause.
Iana presents a view during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on 24 January 2019. Photograph: Famke Janssen/Corbis via Getty Images
Since there is no current vaccine against Ebola, officials from WHO and the Canadian public health institute are testing new tests and building larger stockpiles of medication in case the outbreak spreads to other countries, Bibeau said.
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In the wake of the 2003 outbreak of Sars in Asia, Canada also imposed a travel ban on travelers from 14 countries including Vietnam, China, Cambodia, Thailand and Taiwan. There were not any reported Sars cases in Canada, although seven people died in Hong Kong.
Canada was also approached to develop a vaccine for the Zika virus, which has developed into a wider, chronic and more sinister threat to public health than Sars.
Tests conducted on monkeys have shown a Zika-like disease in human test subjects, highlighting the virus’ ability to travel in blood flow.
Dr Jose Ramos-Horta, the minister of international development in his capacity as the president of Sierra Leone, said the announcement came as a “double shock”.
“When the news of Ebola first came out, we thought it was different,” he said. “We did everything humanly possible to eradicate it and hold our own against any contingency. In our country, we did not only go after Ebola; we had several viruses which killed too many people and there was nowhere for their family members to go.”
“We have sacrificed our blood, not only for ourselves but for our children’s kids.”
Transportation workers collect suspected Ebola cases from a hospital in Gueckedou, Sierra Leone, on 1 November 2014. Photograph: Jessica Kourkounis/AFP/Getty Images
Even though Ebola was eradicated in Sierra Leone in 2016, the virus is still circulating in the eastern part of the country where Ebola treatment centres are still functioning.
Ramos-Horta said that some 30,000 people have died since the end of the conflict, mostly through famine caused by the collapse of the country’s agriculture system, his country’s main revenue source. Ebola was concentrated in the east of the country where he had worked in the ministry of health until 2014.
There have been 7,637 reported cases in Sierra Leone, the majority in the eastern part of the country, where 85% of those affected live. In total, 8,168 people were confirmed dead.
• This article was amended on 14 February 2019. An earlier version said that Zaire and Sudan. Zaire was later renamed Congo and Sudan was re-stated as Sudan. This has been corrected.