West African Nations Ban Flights, Suspend Football to Stop Spread of Ebola

Fear of the Ebola virus has moved a second major West African regional airline, ASKY, to suspend flights to two large cities— Monrovia, Liberia, and Freetown, Sierra Leone —in the latest step to squelch the spread of the world’s worst-ever Ebola outbreak.

Nigeria’s largest airline, Arik Air, had already banned flights to Liberia and Sierra Leone.

With 672 deaths so far, other entities in West Africa also have taken action, including the suspension of all football activities in Liberia.

“Football being a contact sport—people are sweating—they do contact each other, and that could result in contracting the disease,” the president of the Liberian football association, Musa Hassan Bility, told BBC“It also has to do with the fans because whenever there is a game, a lot of people come together and we want to discourage gathering at this point.”

The football association warned FIFA, the international football governing body, to cancel trips to Liberia scheduled for August and September.

“We do not want the life of the Fifa president [Sepp Blatter] to be exposed to this disease,” Bility said.

A naturalized American citizen, Patrick Sawyer, 40, became the first American to succumb to Ebola during this outbreak. Sawyer died at a hospital in Nigeria after he had been caring for his Ebola-stricken sister in Liberia, though at the time he didn’t know she had Ebola. Sawyer, who worked as a top government official in the Liberian Ministry of Finance, was on his way back home to Minnesota to celebrate the birthdays of his daughters when he stopped off at a conference in Lagos, Nigeria, and collapsed getting off the plane.

“He was so proud when he became a U.S. citizen,” his wife Decontee Sawyer, who is also a naturalized American citizen originally from Liberia, told CNN. “He voted for first time in the last U.S. presidential election. He lived in the U.S. for many years, and wanted that for Liberia — a better democracy.”

Sierra Leone is mourning the death of its top doctor to Ebola after he had been such an instrumental force in fighting the disease. Called a “national hero” by the country’s health minister, 39-year-old Sheik Umar Khan was credited with treating more than 100 patients before he contracted the disease earlier this month and was moved to a treatment ward run by medical charity Doctors Without Borders in the far north of the country. Yesterday Khan succumbed to the disease.

There have been other high profile deaths as well, such as Dr. Samuel Brisbane, one of Liberia’s most well-known doctors who once served as a medical adviser to former Liberian President Charles Taylor. Brisbane was working as a consultant with the internal medicine unit at Liberia’s largest hospital, the John F. Kennedy Memorial Medical Center in Monrovia, Liberia’s capital, when he died of the disease. 

While ASKY suspended flights to cities in Liberia and Sierra Leone, it didn’t stop flights to Guinea, the third major country where people have died. But ASKY said in a statement that passengers departing from there will be screened for signs of the virus, which includes checking for fever.


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