Israel will begin monitoring travelers arriving at Ben-Gurion Airport from Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone for Ebola fever, even though health authorities do not regard the country as being at high risk for the virus.
“Israel is prepared to stop, as much as is possible, the entry of Ebola patients into our borders, as part of our general efforts to defend our borders from illegal infiltrators and terror,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday morning at a meeting convened to discuss the spread of the virus that has killed more than 4,000 people, mostly in Western Africa, and that has infected a handful in the West, including the US and Spain.
The meeting was attended by representatives from the Health, Transportation, Interior, Foreign, and Justice ministries, as well as from the Airports Authority, Israel Police and the IDF.
Ebola is “an international epidemic and we are cooperating with other countries.
In addition to protecting our borders, we are taking a number of steps to isolate patients, if they arrive, and, of course, to treat them in our healthcare system,” Netanyahu said, adding that he hoped there will not be a need for the precautionary measures, but that the government was prepared for all possibilities.
Ben-Gurion Airport director Shmuel Zakai said airport personnel were “beginning a very wide deployment at all border crossings aimed at identifying and preventing the entry of travelers infected with Ebola.”
The measures include the distribution of warning flyers in a number of languages and questionnaires to be filled out by arrivals from the three African countries, from which 50 to 100 people came to Israel in the year before the Ebola virus spread. The Health Ministry is contemplating to use infrared camera fever monitoring in the future, said Prof. Arnon Afek, the Health Ministry’s director-general.
“I have been saying for a long time that everyone arriving at Ben-Gurion Airport should have their temperature measured by infrared cameras,” Dr. Leslie Lobel, a veteran Ebola researcher at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev who visits West African countries five times a year to conduct research on survivors of infection, told The Jerusalem Post following Netanyahu’s announcement.
“Even if someone [actually only has] the flu, it is a public health issue and the person should be quarantined until we know if it’s a virulent strain that might cause public health problems and was transported from another part of the world. The degree of inaction regarding viral disease in travelers is breathtaking and will one day be something we all regret,” he said.
“There are plenty of tests that can be performed on travelers with fever that can rule out diseases that need quarantine,” he continued. “Although some tests are rapid, others might take a couple of hours. It’s a small price to pay for the heath of our population.”
Ebola is spread through direct contact with bodily fluids such as blood, vomit, urine, and stools of an infected person, but not by coughing, sneezing or eating food touched by someone who is infected.
Health Ministry director-general Prof. Arnon Afek said the ministry “is following what is happening with the Ebola virus and is in contact with experts all over the world. We are improving the healthcare system’s preparedness to provide an answer for every Ebola patient should they arrive in Israel.”
Israeli and Palestinian Authority health authorities also have met to coordinate their actions regarding Ebola. Those meetings also were attended by Prof. Alex Leventhal, who is in charge of international affairs in the ministry, and World Health Organization officials from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Leventhal suggested that his Jordanian counterparts also join the discussion since the fatal virus knows no borders.
US federal health officials last week decided to require temperature checks on arrivals from the three African countries at five major airports.
While conceding the infrared- camera monitoring was more a psychological step than a way of preventing anyone with Ebola from reaching US shores, they said it was an important step in improving security at international airports, including those in New York, Newark, Chicago, Atlanta, and Washington. Travelers at those locations also will be asked a number of questions about how they feel and where exactly they came from.
British airport authorities also have decided to institute similar measures.