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AIR TRAVEL: SAA Decision on West African Flights Consistent with WHO


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South African Airways’ (SAA) decision to continue operating in West Africa is consistent with the position adopted by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

The Emergency Committee of the WHO on the Ebola outbreak, held a meeting in Geneva recently and concluded that “there should be no general ban on international travel or trade” to that region. Having noted the announcement by the WHO, SAA has stepped up measures aimed at protecting its passengers, crew and ground staff.

The measures include ensuring that the airline has in place vigilant staff that will be on the lookout for passengers who bear specific and visible symptoms associated with the Ebola virus. The staff is adequately trained to manage incidents of this nature, should a need to do so arise.

In cases where a passenger may bear visible symptoms associated with the infection at check in, such passengers will be isolated from the others. This will be followed with passenger interviews and tests conducted by the health authorities in order to determine the possible cause(s) of the symptoms. In the event that there is any doubt regarding the medical condition of any suspected passenger, SAA may elect to deny such passenger/s to board its aircraft.

In cases where passengers develop symptoms after the aircraft has commenced its flight, the crew on board will initiate specific procedures that include isolating such passengers from others on board the aircraft. This will eliminate possible physical interaction of affected passengers with the rest of the passengers. The virus is not airborne and no transmission may occur due to air circulation in the cabin. It is transmitted through infected bodily fluids of a sick passenger. Once isolated, such passengers may not present a risk to fellow passengers as the Ebola virus is not transmitted in the air, but through body fluids such as blood and saliva among others.

Each aircraft has been equipped with special protective gear for crew on board to wear and to enable them to respond to any passengers suspected of having been infected, or displaying the listed symptoms that include sweating, nose bleeding or vomiting. There is also a special biohazard waste disposal kit intended for the safe disposal of waste.

SAA flies to five destinations in West Africa, namely Abidjan (Ivory Coast); Accra (Ghana); Cotonou (Benin); Dakar (Senegal) and Lagos (Nigeria). There is no travel ban to any of these destinations as a result of the outbreak of the virus in that region.

The airline remains committed to ensuring the enforcement of international health protocols associated with air transport.

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