U.S. envoy to U.N. defends Ebola guidelines; praises airlines

Reuters News
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Posted: Oct 31, 2014 11:05 AM

By Louis Charbonneau and Bill Berkrot

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power on Friday defended federal guidelines for monitoring health workers returning from three Ebola-stricken West African countries and praised the airlines still flying there.

Amid controversy in the United States over some states ordering 21-day quarantines for nurses and doctors returning home after treating Ebola patients, Power said current federal rules balanced "the need to respond to the fears that this has generated" with the known science on the disease.

"Let me commend Air Brussels, Air France and Moroccan Airways for keeping their flights going. Those flights are a lifeline," Power said at a Reuters Newsmaker event in New York hours after returning from a four-day trip to Ebola-hit Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, with a quick stop to drop her son off at school.

Ebola, which has killed about 5,000 people in the three countries, is transmitted through the bodily fluids of an infected person and is not airborne. Some states, including New York and New Jersey, have gone beyond the U.S. guidelines with isolation periods for health workers equivalent to the maximum time it can take for Ebola to develop.

Power said she was considered at low risk for contracting the virus because she did not have direct contact with Ebola patients while in West Africa. She said she had her temperature taken three times before boarding a plane home from Liberia and was checked again upon arriving at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport.

Several U.S. politicians have called for a outright ban on flights from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, which government and aid organizations said would hurt efforts to control the outbreak at its source by deterring medical volunteers.

Power said health officials are capable of self monitoring with regular checks for symptoms, which can include fever, diarrhea and vomiting.

The envoy had high praise for countries that have people on the ground battling the epidemic, including Cuba, with which the United States has had strained relations and economic bans for decades, and China.

"Although I did not encounter them personally, I have to commend Cuba..." Power said. Havana has sent more than 260 medical professionals and plans on assigning 200 more.

"One hopeful sign I saw as I left Liberia ... was a big old Air China cargo plane, which was offloading a huge number of supplies, and it was American soldiers, Liberian soldiers and the Chinese workers on the plane who were doing it together," Power said.

"These kinds of infusions are very important and I think China's response is steadily increasing," the envoy said.

In the diplomatic way that only a professional diplomat could put it, Power responded to a direct question by suggesting that France could be doing more in Guinea.

"There's a command and control issue in Guinea," she said, adding that the United Nations command center and that of Guinea officials should be co-located for better coordination.

"I think the French, because of the French speaking aspect of this, could play an important role," Power said.

(This story has been refiled to correct to 'Power' instead of 'Powers' in third paragraph)

(Reporting by Louis Charbonneau and Bill Berkrot; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Grant McCool)