Vice Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Meets with Guinea President

Saudi

Jeddah – Vice Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Prince Mohammed bin Salman held talks on Wednesday with visiting Guinea President Alpha Conde, reported the Saudi Press Agency.

Meeting Jeddah, the two officials discussed bilateral ties between their two nations and ways to develop them in various fields.

They also addressed a number of issues of common interest.

The meeting was attended by Saudi Interior Minister Abdulaziz bin Saud bin Nayef in Abdulaziz, Minister of State and Member of the Cabinet and Chief of the Royal Court Khalid Al-Isa, Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, Minister of Environment, Water and Agriculture Abdulrahman Al-Fadhli and Saudi Ambassador to Guinea Suleiman Al-Firaij.

AU Pledges to Support Sudan in Lifting US Sanctions

AU

Khartoum – Guinean President and Chairperson of the African Union (AU) Alpha Conde pledged to support Sudan in its efforts to achieve a complete lifting of US sanctions imposed on it.

He also announced that a meeting for the Libyan rival parties would be held in the Guinean capital to agree on a government of national unity.

Conde arrived on Sunday in Khartoum on a three-day visit to discuss the security situation in the continent.

The official news agency SUNA Sunday quoted Sudan’s foreign minister Ibrahim Ghandour as saying “Conde’s visit to the country comes upon an official invitation from President Omar al-Bashir”.

During a news conference following a bilateral meeting with the Sudanese president, Conde said he would work to achieve the full lifting of US sanctions against Sudan, in order to facilitate the movement of Bashir within the African continent and the world.

“We came here to tell the world that we stand by this people and this country,” the AU chairperson stated.

On Libya, Conde blamed the international community for the security instability in the African country, stressing that foreign intervention in the Libyan crisis has further escalated the crisis there.

He noted in this regard that Guinea would host a meeting between the different Libyan factions to agree on a national unity government, with the hope to end the conflict.

Conde also called on Sudan to support the AU plans, which aim to reach a political solution to end the political stalemate in Libya.

The Sudanese president, for his part, said he discussed with his Guinean counterpart bilateral relations and the latest developments in Sudan, on the political, security and economic levels.

He added that discussions also touched on regional developments, highlighting the AU chairman’s efforts to support Sudan and the African continent.

Alpha Condé: Foreign Interference behind Africa’s Problems

Condé

Conakry (Guinea) – Guinean President Alpha Condé, whose country currently assumes the rotating presidency of the African Union, said problems facing the Dark Continent were mainly due to “foreign interference.”

In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, Condé said he was fully convinced that Africa and the Arab world need one another, in particular in the field of economic cooperation.

Asked about the African Union’s role in helping Arab and African states overcome current threats and challenges, the Guinean president said: “We have agreed that the AU must seek to resolve all African problems, whether those problems were in Arab countries, in the Sahel or the sub-Sahara.”

He explained that Africans must resolve the crisis in Libya, just like the conflict in Nigeria.

“Our goal is that African themselves seek to resolve all problems facing the continent, and we believe that all of the African continent’s crises are caused by foreign interference,” the president stated.

Condé told Asharq Al-Awsat that his country decided to join the Saudi-led military alliance to fight terrorism based on its belief that terrorist organizations were threatening Islam and the whole world.

“Terrorism threatens us all and it contradicts Islamic teachings,” he said. “Protecting Islam is our duty.”

On the AU relations with the Gulf, the Guinean president said: “We all know that Africa needs the Arab world and the Arab world needs Africa.”

“Arab countries’ economies rely on oil but they have to plan for the post-oil era. We have primary material and fertile land, and Gulf States have financial assets,” he stated.

He noted in this regard that economic partnerships between Africa and the Gulf would create fruitful industries that serve both sides.

While acknowledging the need to put local conflicts behind and move forward towards a fresh strategy to develop the Dark Continent, Condé said the African Union’s founding fathers were aware of the necessity to surpass geographic borders, which were imposed by foreign powers.

He said that African leaders knew that foreign intervention and the “blue helmets” would not be able to resolve the continent’s problems.

“More than 20,000 UN troops are present since decades in different African regions, and nothing has changed so far. On the contrary, there are attacks and explosions everyday – this happens in Darfur, South Sudan, and many other areas,” the president noted.

“We are convinced, more than ever, that only Africans can resolve these problems and conflicts,” he added.

On the consolidation of democracy and reconciliation, the Guinean president affirmed at no country could develop in the absence of national unity. He explained that a country’s national unity should be supported by a “genuine African integration”.

“Except for Nigeria, African markets are small and limited, however, economic prosperity requires larger markets.
That is why we are convinced of the need to establish a regional integration in the first phase, and then we will work to achieve integration on the continental level,” Condé said.

“Such integration will allow us to overcome Africa’s biggest challenge that is poverty,” he added.

On whether the decision to allow Morocco back to the AU has created a rift within the organization, Condé stressed that the decision was taken unanimously and that no country objected the return of the North African state.

He added that he hoped the controversial issue of Western Sahara would be soon resolved.

“As president of Guinea and current president of the African Union, I will do my best to defend African unity and resolve the continent’s problems regardless of their nature, in order to achieve development and prosperity for the African people,” Condé said.

British nurse with Ebola in critical condition: hospital

Scottish nurse Pauline Cafferkey was working at a Save the Children specialist ebola hospital in Sierra Leone in November 2014. (EPA/HO)
Scottish nurse Pauline Cafferkey was working at a Save the Children specialist ebola hospital in Sierra Leone in November 2014. (EPA/HO)

London, Reuters—A British nurse being treated for Ebola in London is in a critical condition after deteriorating over the last two days, her hospital said on Saturday.

The Royal Free Hospital has been treating Pauline Cafferkey, 39, with blood plasma from an Ebola survivor and an experimental anti-viral drug.

She was diagnosed with Ebola on Monday after returning to Britain late on Sunday from Sierra Leone, where she had been working for the charity Save the Children at a treatment center outside the capital, Freetown.

Cafferkey is the first person to have been diagnosed with Ebola on British soil.

The West African Ebola outbreak was first identified in Guinea’s remote southeast in early 2014. Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia have borne the brunt of the 20,000 infections and nearly 8,000 dead.

The Royal Free, Britain’s main center for Ebola cases, successfully treated British aid worker William Pooley with the experimental drug ZMapp after he was flown back to Britain in August.

The hospital has not specified which drug Cafferkey is being treated with, but said no supplies of ZMapp were available.

On Wednesday, the hospital had said Cafferkey was sitting up in bed, talking and reading. But a doctor treating her warned at the time that the course of the disease could be unpredictable.

Ebola is transmitted through bodily fluids, and the hospital said it was treating Cafferkey inside a specially designed tent around her bed with controlled ventilation to reduce the risk of further infections.

Ebola vaccine seems safe in first-stage testing

The Clinical Center Building where an experimental Ebola vaccine is being trialed in Bethesda, US. (EPA/Michael Reynolds)
The Clinical Center Building where an experimental Ebola vaccine is being trialed in Bethesda, US. (EPA/Michael Reynolds)

Washington, AP—An experimental Ebola vaccine appears safe and triggered signs of immune protection in the first 20 volunteers to test it, US researchers reported Wednesday.

The vaccine is designed to spur the immune system’s production of anti-Ebola antibodies, and people developed them within four weeks of getting the shots at the National Institutes of Health. Half of the test group received a higher-dose shot, and those people produced more antibodies, said the study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Some people also developed a different set of virus-fighting immune cells, named T cells, the study found. That may be important in fending off Ebola, as prior research found that monkeys protected by the vaccine also had that combination response.

Stimulating both types of immune response is “a promising factor,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, whose employees led the work.

The researchers reported no serious side effects. But two people who received the higher-dose vaccine briefly spiked fevers, one above 103 degrees Fahrenheit (39 Celsius), which disappeared within a day.

Earlier this month, Fauci told Congress this first-stage testing was promising enough that the US planned much larger studies in West Africa, starting in Liberia in early January, to try to prove whether the vaccine really works.

Scientists are racing to develop ways to prevent or treat the virus that has killed more than 5,600 people in West Africa, most of them in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Wednesday’s publication offered scientific details about the initial testing of the vaccine candidate furthest along, one being developed by NIH and GlaxoSmithKline. Additional safety studies are underway here and abroad. A different Canadian-made vaccine also has begun small safety studies.

Many questions remain as larger studies are being designed, including the best dose and how soon protection may begin, cautioned Dr. Daniel Bausch, a Tulane University Ebola specialist who wasn’t involved in the study. Plus, monkey research suggests a booster shot will be needed for long-term protection.

“The road is still long and there are many challenges but we are nevertheless one step closer to a solution,” he wrote in an accompanying editorial.

US isolates troops, Australia slaps visa ban on Ebola-hit West Africa states

Health workers walk toward an area used for Ebola quarantine in Kayes, Mali, on October 25, 2014. (AP Photo/Baba Ahmed)
Health workers walk toward an area used for Ebola quarantine in Kayes, Mali, on October 25, 2014. (AP Photo/Baba Ahmed)

Washington and Sydney, Reuters—The US military has started isolating soldiers returning from an Ebola response mission in West Africa, and Australia became the first rich nation to impose a visa ban on the affected countries amid global anxiety about the spread of the virus.

The latest measures, along with decisions by some US states to impose mandatory quarantines on health workers returning home from treating Ebola victims in West Africa, have been condemned by health authorities and the United Nations as extreme.

The top health official in charge of dealing with Washington’s response to Ebola warned against turning doctors and nurses who travel to West Africa to tackle Ebola into “pariahs.”

The Ebola outbreak has killed nearly 5,000 people since March, the vast majority in West Africa, but nine Ebola cases in the United States have caused alarm, and states such as New York and New Jersey have ignored federal advice by introducing their own strict controls.

The United Nations on Monday sharply criticized the new restrictions imposed by some US states on health workers returning home from the affected West African states of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

“Returning health workers are exceptional people who are giving of themselves for humanity,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, said. “They should not be subjected to restrictions that are not based on science. Those who develop infections should be supported, not stigmatized.”

American soldiers returning from West Africa are also being isolated, even though they showed no symptoms of infection and were not believed to have been exposed to the deadly virus, officials said on Monday.

In a statement, the Army said Chief-of-Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno ordered the 21-day monitoring period for returning soldiers “to ensure soldiers, family members and their surrounding communities are confident that we are taking all steps necessary to protect their health.”

The army isolated about a dozen soldiers on their return during the weekend to their home base in Vicenza, Italy. That included Maj. Gen. Darryl Williams, the commander of US Army Africa, who oversaw the military’s initial response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

“We are billeted in a separate area [on the base]. There’s no contact with the general population or with family. No-one will be walking around Vicenza,” Williams told Reuters in a telephone interview.

The US military has repeatedly stressed that its personnel are not interacting with Ebola patients and are instead building treatment units to help health authorities battle the epidemic. Up to 4,000 US troops may be deployed on the mission.

“From a public health perspective, we would not feel that isolation is appropriate,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, Washington State epidemiologist and chairman of the Public Health Committee of the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

The decision goes well beyond previously established military protocols and came just as President Barack Obama’s administration sought to discourage precautionary quarantines being imposed by some US states on healthcare workers returning from countries battling Ebola.

US federal health officials on Monday revamped guidelines for doctors and nurses returning from West Africa, stopping well short of controversial mandatory quarantines.

Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), called for isolation of people at the highest risk for Ebola infection but said most medical workers returning from the three countries at the center of the epidemic would require daily monitoring without isolation.

“At CDC, we base our decisions on science and experience. We base our decisions on what we know and what we learn. And as the science and experience changes, we adopt and adapt our guidelines and recommendations,” Frieden said.

The Obama administration’s new guidelines are not mandatory, and states will have the right to put in place policies that are more strict. Some state officials, grappling with an unfamiliar public health threat, had called federal restrictions placed on people traveling from Ebola-affected countries insufficient to protect Americans and have imposed tougher measures.

Australia on Monday issued a blanket ban on visas from Ebola-affected countries in West Africa to prevent the disease reaching the country, becoming the first rich nation to shut its doors to the region.

Australia has not recorded a case of Ebola despite a number of scares, and conservative Prime Minister Tony Abbott has so far resisted repeated requests to send medical personnel to help battle the outbreak on the ground.

The decision to refuse entry for anyone from Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, while touted by the government as a necessary safety precaution, was criticized by experts and advocates as politically motivated and shortsighted.

Adam Kamradt-Scott, a senior lecturer at the University of Sydney’s Marie Bashir Institute for Infectious Diseases and Biosecurity, said the ban would do nothing to protect the country from Ebola while potentially having a negative public health impact by unduly raising fears and creating a general climate of panic.

Medical professionals say Ebola is difficult to catch and is spread through direct contact with bodily fluids from an infected person and not transmitted by asymptomatic people; it is not airborne.

There has been a growing chorus of critics, including public health experts, the United Nations, medical charities and even the White House, denouncing mandatory quarantines as scientifically unjustified and an obstacle to fighting the disease at its source in West Africa.

“Anything that will dissuade foreign trained personnel from coming here to West Africa and joining us on the frontline to fight the fight would be very, very unfortunate,” Anthony Banbury, head of the UN Ebola Emergency Response Mission (UNMEER), told Reuters in the Ghanian capital Accra. He said that health workers returning to their own countries should be treated as heroes.

Mali’s first Ebola case, a 2-year-old girl, dies: officials

A health worker checks the temperature of a baby entering Mali from Guinea at the border in Kouremale, on October 2, 2014. (Reuters/Joe Penney)
A health worker checks the temperature of a baby entering Mali from Guinea at the border in Kouremale, on October 2, 2014. (Reuters/Joe Penney)

Bamako, Reuters—A two-year-old girl who was Mali’s first case of Ebola died on Friday, shortly after the World Health Organization warned that many people had potentially been exposed to the virus because she was taken across the country while ill.

The girl had travelled with her grandmother hundreds of miles by bus from Guinea via Mali’s capital to the western town of Kayes, where she was diagnosed on Thursday. Health workers were scrambling to trace hundreds of potential contacts in a bid to prevent Ebola taking hold in Mali.

The worst Ebola outbreak on record has killed 4,900 people, mainly in nearby Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. A global response to the epidemic is being rolled out but experts warn that tens of thousands more people are at risk.

In a statement on Friday night, Mali’s government confirmed the death of the girl, who has not been identified.

“In this moment of sadness, the government would like to express its condolences to her family and reminds the population that maintain very strict hygiene rules remains the best way to contain this disease,” it said.

Mali is the sixth West African nation to record a case of Ebola. Senegal and Nigeria have successfully contained outbreaks and has been declared free of the disease. Spain and the United States have had a few cases.

Diplomatic sources have expressed concern about the preparedness of Mali, one of the world’s poorest countries, to contain an outbreak. Home to a large UN peacekeeping mission, the mostly Muslim country is still battling northern Islamist militants after a brief French-led war last year.

WHO said that an investigation into the girl’s case revealed that she had already started showing symptoms—and was therefore contagious—before being taken to Kayes.

“WHO is treating the situation in Mali as an emergency,” the UN health agency said in a statement.

“The child’s symptomatic state during the bus journey is especially concerning, as it presented multiple opportunities for exposures—including high-risk exposures—involving many people,” it added.

The girl was seen by health workers on October 20 in Kayes but was referred to another hospital the next day where she tested positive for typhoid but was also bleeding from her nose. It was not until October 23 that she tested positive for Ebola, WHO said.

WHO said that 43 contacts had been identified and isolated but a second Malian health official, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters that authorities estimated that at least 300 people had been in contact with the infected child.

Hours before Mali confirmed the case on Thursday, WHO Assistant Director-General Keiji Fukuda said the agency had “reasonable confidence” that there was not widespread transmission of the Ebola virus into neighboring countries.

WHO and Medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres, which has helped run much of the response to Ebola, were both scrambling teams to Mali on Friday. A UN plane flew one tonne of medical supplies—including personnel protection equipment kits, gloves, face shields and buckets—to the country.

On the dusty streets of the capital Bamako, residents voiced alarm at the girl having spent time in the city’s Bagadadji district before travelling on Sunday to Kayes, some 400 miles to the northwest near the Senegalese border.

“I am afraid because, with my job, I am in permanent contact with people but I can’t afford to just stop,” said taxi driver Hamidou Bamba, 46, in Bamako. “Today is Friday so let us pray to Allah that this disease will not spread in Mali.”

Mali, together with cocoa producer Ivory Coast, has put in place border controls to stop Ebola at its frontiers. However, a visit to Mali’s border with Guinea by Reuters this month showed vehicles avoiding a health checkpoint set up by Malian authorities by simply driving through the bush.

Ivory Coast was on alert after Guinean authorities informed them that a Guinean health worker had slipped surveillance and headed for the border after a patient had contracted Ebola.

Raymonde Goudou Coffie, Ivory Coast’s health minister, said the authorities did not know if the medic had Ebola but had to be traced as he had been in contact with someone who had.

Doctor with Ebola in Manhattan hospital after return from Guinea

The entrance to  Bellevue  Hospital where Doctor Craig Spencer is being treated in an isolation unit. (AFP Photo/Timothy A. Clary)
The entrance to Bellevue Hospital where Doctor Craig Spencer is being treated in an isolation unit. (AFP Photo/Timothy A. Clary)

New York, Reuters—A doctor who worked in West Africa with Ebola patients was in an isolation unit in New York on Friday after testing positive for the deadly virus, becoming the fourth person diagnosed with the disease in the United States and the first in its largest city.

The worst Ebola outbreak on record has killed at least 4,900 people and perhaps as many as 15,000, mostly in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, according to World Health Organization figures.

Only four Ebola cases have been diagnosed so far in the United States: Thomas Eric Duncan, who died on October 8 at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, two nurses who treated him there and the latest case, Dr. Craig Spencer.

Spencer, 33, who worked for Doctors Without Borders, was taken to Bellevue Hospital on Thursday, six days after returning from Guinea, renewing public jitters about transmission of the disease in the United States and rattling financial markets.

Three people who had close contact with Spencer were quarantined for observation—one of them, his fiancée, at the same hospital—but all were still healthy, officials said.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo sought to reassure New Yorkers they were safe, even though Spencer had ridden subways, taken a taxi and visited a bowling alley between his return from Guinea and the onset of his symptoms.

“There is no reason for New Yorkers to be alarmed,” de Blasio said at a news conference at Bellevue. “Being on the same subway car or living near someone with Ebola does not in itself put someone at risk.”

Health officials emphasized that the virus is not airborne but is spread only through direct contact with bodily fluids from an infected person who is showing symptoms.

After taking his own temperature twice daily since his return, Spencer reported running a fever and experiencing gastrointestinal symptoms for the first time early on Thursday. He was then taken from his Manhattan apartment to Bellevue by a special team wearing protective gear, city officials said.

He was not feeling sick and would not have been contagious before Thursday morning, city Health Commissioner Mary Travis Bassett said.

Owners of the bowling alley he visited said they had voluntarily closed the establishment for the day as a precaution. But the driver of the ride-sharing taxi Spencer took was not considered to be at risk, and officials insisted the three subway lines he rode before falling ill remained safe.

“We consider that it is extremely unlikely, the probability being close to nil, that there would be any problem related to his taking the subway system,” Bassett said.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will confirm Spencer’s test results within 24 hours, she said.

His case brings to nine the total number of people treated for the disease in US hospitals since August, but just two—Duncan’s nurses—contracted the virus in the United States.

The New York case surfaced days after dozens of people who were exposed to Duncan emerged from the 21–day incubation period with clean bills of health, easing a national sense of crisis that took hold when his nurses, Nina Pham and Amber Vinson, became infected.

“I’m really concerned,” said Kiki Howard, 26, a student who lives on the block next to Spencer’s home in Harlem. “There’s a school at the end of the block. My main concern is for the safety of the children.”

The health commissioner said Spencer’s apartment was isolated and sealed off, noting, “I see no reason for the tenants in the apartment building to be concerned.”

Still, there were signs that the latest Ebola case had unnerved investors. S&P futures fell 9 points or 0.45 percent. The dollar slipped against the euro and the US 10-year Treasury rose, lowering its yield to about 2.24 percent.

The city health commissioner said Spencer completed work in Guinea on October 12 and arrived at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York on October 17. His Facebook page, which included a photo of him clad in protective gear, said he stopped over in Brussels.

Spencer has specialized in international emergency medicine at Columbia University-New York Presbyterian Hospital in New York City since 2011.

Columbia, in a statement, said he has not been to work nor seen any patients since his return.

A woman named Morgan Dixon was identified on Spencer’s Facebook page as his fiancée. Her Linked-In profile said she worked in nonprofit management and international development with the Hope Program, a career development agency for homeless and welfare-dependent adults.

The CDC did not name Spencer but said he “participated in the enhanced screening” instituted for all travelers returning from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone this month at five major US airports—including Kennedy.

The doctor “went through multiple layers of screening and did not have a fever or other symptoms of illness,” the CDC said in a statement.

Obama open to appointing Ebola ‘tsar’, opposes travel ban

A member of the NGO U Fondation leaves a house after visiting quarantined family members suffering from the Ebola virus, on October 16, 2014, in Monrovia, Liberia. (AFP Photo/Zoom Dosso)
A member of the NGO U Fondation leaves a house after visiting quarantined family members suffering from the Ebola virus, on October 16, 2014, in Monrovia, Liberia. (AFP Photo/Zoom Dosso)

Washington, Reuters—President Barack Obama said he was considering appointing an Ebola “tsar” to coordinate the fight against the virus in the United States, but he remained opposed to a ban on travel from West Africa.

Obama’s administration is facing sharp criticism from lawmakers over its efforts to contain the disease at home. Obama authorized calling up military reservists for the US fight against Ebola in West Africa on Thursday.

US concerns have intensified after two Texas nurses who cared for a dying Liberian patient contracted the virus that has killed nearly 4,500 people. Federal health officials said they were broadening their outreach to people who may have come into contact with one of the workers.

Spain is also grappling with the spread of the disease, with four new patients with suspected Ebola symptoms admitted to hospitals.

The disease continues to spread in West Africa where the outbreak began in March, and reached the last remaining district in Sierra Leone that had not been affected by Ebola.

US lawmakers held a congressional hearing about the administration’s handling of the Ebola outbreak in the United States. Some have called for a “tsar” and a ban on travel from West Africa.

“It may be appropriate for me to appoint an additional person” to oversee efforts to contain Ebola, Obama told reporters, adding that experts have told him “a flat-out travel ban is not the way to go” because current screening measures at airports are working.

He said he had no philosophical objection to a travel ban but that some travelers might attempt to enter the United States by avoiding screening measures, which could lead to more Ebola cases, not fewer.

US Federal Aviation Administration chief Michael Huerta told reporters separately that the government was assessing whether to issue a travel ban “on a day-to-day basis.”

Jamaica announced an immediate travel ban on Thursday and Guyana said it has denied entry to citizens from four Ebola-hit West African nations during the past five weeks.

Amber Vinson, one of the nurses who treated the Ebola patient at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas and contracted the virus, traveled to Ohio over the weekend on a Frontier Airlines flight while running a slight fever.

Dr. Christopher Braden, a spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said Vinson may have been ill as early as Friday, when she boarded the flight from Dallas to Cleveland.

The CDC said it was expanding its search for people who could have been exposed to Vinson to include passengers on her flight to Cleveland, Frontier Airlines flight 1142, in addition to those on her Monday return trip to Texas, flight 1143.

The CDC said health professionals would interview passengers and arrange for follow up monitoring if necessary.

The Los Angeles Times reported that Frontier also said it would contact some 750 other passengers who had flown on different flights, but the same plane as Vinson.

Dr. Thomas Frieden, the CDC director, has said it is unlikely passengers who flew with Vinson were infected because the nurse had not vomited or bled on the flight, but he said she should not have boarded the plane.

Concerns about Ebola exposure prompted several schools in Ohio and Texas to close because people with ties to the schools may have shared the flight with Vinson.

An air ambulance transported Vinson to Atlanta’s Emory University Hospital on Wednesday for treatment. The first nurse to contract Ebola, Nina Pham, 26, was flown to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, to be treated in an isolation unit.

A YouTube video made by Pham’s physician Dr. Gary Weinstein before her discharge showed her in a bed at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital and with Weinstein in protective gear.

In the video, Pham wiped away tears and said, “Come to Maryland, everybody!” and “I love you guys.” She requested that the video be shared by the hospital.

More than a week after the death of Thomas Eric Duncan, the first patient diagnosed with Ebola in the United States, the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital acknowledged it made mistakes in diagnosing Duncan and in giving the public information.

Dr. Daniel Varga, chief clinical officer and senior vice president of Texas Health Resources which owns the hospital, said the hospital was “deeply sorry.” He said there had been no Ebola training for staff before Duncan was admitted.

The hospital defended its treatment of Duncan, saying it had followed CDC guidelines. Criticisms that had surfaced in the media about its Ebola treatment “are often out-of-context and sensationalized. Others are completely inaccurate,” it said.

In the congressional hearing, several Republicans said flights from West Africa should be stopped.
“We need to look at all the options available to keep our families safe and move quickly and responsibly to make any necessary changes at airports,” Democratic Representative Bruce Braley of Iowa told the hearing.

The virus is spread through direct contact with bodily fluids from an infected person showing symptoms of Ebola. Ebola is not airborne.

Frieden argued, as he has before, that closing US borders would not work and would leave the country less able to track people with Ebola entering. Moreover, cutting flights to Africa would hit the ability to stop the virus at its source, he said.

US steps up its domestic response to Ebola crisis

US President Barack Obama holds a meeting with cabinet agencies coordinating the government's Ebola response in the White House, Washington, on October 15, 2014. (Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)
US President Barack Obama holds a meeting with cabinet agencies coordinating the government’s Ebola response in the White House, Washington, on October 15, 2014. (Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)

Washington, AP—The federal government is ramping up its response to the Ebola crisis after a second Dallas nurse became ill and the disclosure that she had been cleared to fly a day before her diagnosis.

While Ebola patients are not considered contagious until they have symptoms and only two persons have been known to contract the disease in the US, the revelations Wednesday raised new alarms about whether hospitals and the public health system are equipped to handle the deadly disease.

Federal health officials were being called to testify before a congressional committee Thursday to explain where things went wrong.

President Barack Obama directed his administration to respond in a “much more aggressive way” to oversee the Dallas cases and ensure that the lessons learned there are transmitted to hospitals and clinics across the country. And for the second day in a row he canceled out-of-town trips to stay in Washington and monitor the Ebola response.

Even as the president sought to calm new fears about Ebola in the US, he cautioned against letting them overshadow the far more urgent crisis unfolding in West Africa where Ebola has killed more than 4,000.

Underscoring his emphasis on international action, Obama called European leaders Wednesday to discuss better coordination in the fight against Ebola in the countries of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea and to issue a call for more money and personnel to “to bend the curve of the epidemic.”

British Prime Minister David Cameron’s office said that during the call Cameron offered to consult with the Italians to add treatment beds in Sierra Leone.

Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said nurse Amber Joy Vinson never should have been allowed to fly on a commercial jetliner because she had been exposed to the virus while caring for an Ebola patient who traveled to the US from Liberia.

Vinson was being monitored more closely since another nurse, Nina Pham, also involved in Thomas Eric Duncan’s care, was diagnosed with Ebola.

Still, a CDC official cleared Vinson to board the Frontier Airlines flight from Cleveland to the Dallas area by a CDC official. Her reported temperature—99.5 degrees—was below the threshold set by the agency and she had no symptoms, according to agency spokesman David Daigle.

Vinson was diagnosed with Ebola a day after the flight, news that sent airline stocks falling amid fears that it could dissuade people from flying. Losses of between 5 and 8 percent were recorded before shares recovered in afternoon trading.

The new development in Dallas captured political and public attention in the United States, heightening fears that the public health system and the protocols used to protect health care workers were not ironclad.

Duncan, who traveled to the US from Liberia, originally was sent home when he went to the Dallas hospital’s emergency room only to return much sicker two days later. He died of Ebola on October 8.

Frieden has said breaches of protocols led to the infection of the two nurses. More than 70 other health care workers involved in Duncan’s care were being monitored.

Republican lawmakers, including House Speaker John Boehner, increased calls for travel bans or visa suspensions from the West African countries where the disease has spread and urged the administration to take other measures to secure the transportation system.

The oversight subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee scheduled a hearing on Ebola for Thursday with Frieden and Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health.

In prepared testimony, Fauci said Duncan’s death and the infections outside of Africa of the two Dallas nurses and a nurse in Spain “intensify our concerns about this global health threat.” He said two Ebola vaccine candidates were undergoing a first phase of human clinical testing this fall. But he cautioned that scientists were still in the early stages of understanding how the Ebola infection can be treated and prevented.

Medical records provided to The Associated Press by Duncan’s family showed Vinson inserted catheters, drew blood and dealt with Duncan’s body fluids. Late Wednesday, she arrived in Atlanta to be treated at Emory University Hospital, which has already treated three Americans diagnosed with the virus.

Even though Vinson did not report having a fever until the day after she returned home, Frieden, the CDC director, said she should not have boarded a commercial flight.

From now on, Frieden said, no one else involved in Duncan’s care will be allowed to travel “other than in a controlled environment.” He cited guidelines that permit charter flights or travel by car but no public transportation.

On its website, the CDC says all people possibly exposed to Ebola should restrict their travels—including by avoiding commercial flights—for 21 days.

Obama sought to ease fears in the US, urging a stepped up response even as he stressed that the danger in the United States remained a long shot.
“We want a rapid response team, a SWAT team essentially, from the CDC to be on the ground as quickly as possible, hopefully within 24 hours, so that they are taking the local hospital step by step though what needs to be done,” he said.

But he also noted that Ebola is not an airborne virus like the flu and thus more difficult to transmit.