Coveney to brief Cabinet on ebola fears

The Government’s emergency task force has met amid fears that the killer ebola virus could sweep across the EU and spread to Ireland.

Defence Minister Simon Coveney has taken charge of dealing with the threat from the disease and will brief the Cabinet tomorrow on the country’s preparedness for a sudden outbreak here.

Mr Coveney chaired a special meeting of the Government Task Force on Emergency Planning last night as more than 50 people in Spain were under observation amid fears they had been exposed to ebola; it was confirmed the disease had killed its first victim in the US; and British prime minister David Cameron convened a meeting of the UK’s Cobra security committee to ready the country for any outbreak.

The Government first moved to confront the ebola threat with an emergency meeting last week, but the heightened concerns over the spread of the disease to Europe has prompted more urgent action.

A spokesperson for the minister said Mr Coveney convened the emergency meeting “to have a more detailed discussion in terms of our readiness and capacity should the need arise. The minister will provide a full update to Cabinet on Friday”.

The departments of Health, Justice, Transport, and Foreign Affairs were also represented at the task force meeting.

Spanish nurse Teresa Romero, 40, is the first person known to have contracted the disease outside west Africa.

She came into contact with the virus after taking care of two Spanish missionaries who subsequently died from the disease. The situation saw the World Health Organisation warn that more ebola cases were likely among medical staff in the developed world.

The US has imposed new screening measures at entry points to the country to check travellers for symptoms of the virus — which has no proven cure — after the outbreak infected 7,500 people in west Africa, leaving more than 3,000 of them dead.

The spread of ebola prompted Fianna Fáil’s health spokesman Billy Kelleher to warn that the free movement of people in the EU could spread the outbreak.

“In light of the fact that more than 50 people in Spain are now under observation for ebola there is an urgent need for EU authorities to outline the contingency plan for more confirmed cases in Europe.

“I would urge Minister Leo Varadkar to engage with the HSE and the chief medical officer and detail the preparations Ireland is taking and the contingency plan we will have in the event of more cases being confirmed throughout Europe,” said Mr Kelleher.

“I appreciate the fact that most of the deaths from ebola have occurred in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, but given the fact that there is now an exposure within the EU and given the rate of free moment and travel in Europe, the Government should be forthcoming with information for the public,” Mr Kelleher said.


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