US isolates returning troops, Australia bans visas for Ebola hit countries

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The United States’ military began isolating returning troops arriving from countries hit by Ebola. Some US states were also reported to have imposed mandatory quarantines on returning health workers who were deployed to West Africa to treat Ebola patients. 

The move was condemned by health authorities, along with the United Nations, and deemed as “extreme”. The top health official who is responsible for how the US responds to Ebola had warned Washington against treating returning health workers as “pariah”. 

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

The statement comes as part of the United Nations’ sharp criticism against the decision to impose such restrictions on returning health workers. 

Chief of Staff General Raymond Odierno announced in a statement that he is ordering a 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 decision comes regardless if the soldiers do not show any symptoms and are not believed to have been in contact with an Ebola patient. 

The nature of the US Army’s presence in West African countries has been explained by the military to have been limited to building facilities to better enable health officials contain the epidemic. They do not directly handle or come in contact with Ebola patients. 

Meanwhile, Australia issued a visa ban on all Ebola-stricken West African countries, considered a measure to prevent the virus from reaching the country, making it the first rich country to shut its doors to the disease affected African countries. 

There have been no recorded Ebola cases in Australia and Prime Minister Tony Abbott has not responded to requests calling on the country to send medical personnel to the region to combat the disease.

The government said that the decision to refuse anyone coming from Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia is a precaution measure. However, experts and advocates claim it is a short-sighted politically motivated move. 

Medical professionals say that Ebola is not an airborne disease, it is transmitted through direct contact with bodily fluids from the patient. 

Ebola has claimed the lives of nearly 5,000 people since its outbreak in March.