EU ministers agree to step up Ebola co-operation

Member states will look to pool strengths and resources in fight against disease

European Union foreign affairs ministers meeting in Luxembourg yesterday agreed to step-up co-ordination between members states in the fight against Ebola, though any significant decision on a strengthened EU response is likely to be taken at a summit of EU leaders later this week in Brussels.

Foreign ministers agreed to share resources, including access to evacuation facilities, while the European Commission said it would provide funding to ensure the appropriate level of care for international health professionals on a case- by-case basis.

Ireland is one of a number of countries sending medical professionals to areas affected by Ebola but which do not have specialised aircraft to evacuate staff if needed.

Speaking following the meeting, Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan said the meeting had been positive and constructive.

Pool strengths

“The main focus of the meeting was what member states could do together, how to pool strengths and resources. There is a sense that time really is of the essence here,” he said.

He added that the commission had agreed to audit screening standards in the countries directly affected by Ebola, and to improve those procedures if needed.

He said Ireland, as one of the few EU countries with an embassy in Sierra Leone, was already co-operating with other EU member states regarding the situation on the ground in west Africa, which had already been recognised by other EU countries.

EU health ministers meeting in Brussels last week concluded it was up to individual countries to decide whether to introduce screening at EU entry points. Belgium commenced screening passengers at Brussels airport yesterday – the third EU country after Britain and France to introduce checks.

Suspended flights

While a number of airlines, including

British Airways

, have suspended flights to the affected areas in west Africa,

Brussels Airlines

and Moroccan airline

Royal Air

Maroc are still operating direct flights to Sierra Leone,

Liberia

and

Guinea

.

Thomas Eric Duncan

, the Liberian national who died of Ebola in a Dallas hospital last month, travelled on a

Brussels Airline

flight from Liberia to Brussels en route to the US.

On Friday Brussels airport agreed to check baggage coming from Ebola-hit regions, following protests by baggage handlers. It began screening passengers on arrival yesterday.

French foreign minister Laurient Fabius yesterday dismissed suggestions that all direct flights to west Africa from Europe should be suspended. "Instead of going to Brussels or to France, passengers would go to Dubai or elsewhere and come in from there," he said.

Meanwhile, in a debate in Strasbourg yesterday evening EU humanitarian aid commissioner Kristalina Georgieva warned that if concerted action was not taken there could be 10,000 new cases of Ebola a week by mid-December.

Noting that 427 doctors and nurses have been diagnosed, including 230 deaths, she said that the EU had increased the provision of equipment and protective clothing to the area.

“The longer the epidemic lasts not only more people die but it is hugely destructive for the economies of the affected countries,” she told MEPs.