Ivory Coast lifts Ebola flight restrictions

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NEW YORK (AP) — Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara said Friday his country will lift the controversial suspension of flights to countries stricken by the Ebola virus to show solidarity with the nations affected by the lethal outbreak.

He said the initial decision to suspend flights was prompted by uncertainty about the threat, which he called a terrible problem for the people of West Africa.

"When Ebola first broke out, people got panicked," he told The Associated Press in an interview. "Obviously we rushed to make certain decisions. Now that everything is under control — there is no case of Ebola in Cote d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) — I have decided that next week we will lift the suspension of flights and the maritime suspension."

In addition, he said Ivory Coast has opened a "humanitarian corridor" so that people who want to enter Ivory Coast can be checked. The country has also contributed $1 million to the international anti-Ebola effort.

Ouattara, who addressed the United Nations General Assembly on Friday, said initial concerns were prompted by Ivory Coast's shared borders with two countries — Guinea and Liberia — hit by Ebola.

"I think we are the only country that has two Ebola countries to its borders and we have to really work on its prevention and we are very grateful to President Obama — the Centers for Disease Control has sent two experts to work on this control," he said. "We are trying to work on specific measures to contain and to prevent."

In the first few days of the crisis, Ouattara said his first response was to send health and military personnel to the borders because of reports that infected people had entered Ivory Coast.

He then called his security council into a series of crisis meetings, but added health officials to the gatherings.

"We discussed specific measures, one by one, for several hours, then we sent a communique on television to explain to our people: Yes, there is a problem, don't be scared, we're handling it, we have taken measures. You can count on the government not to hide a single case of Ebola. If there is a case of Ebola, we'll say that there is a case."

He said he is following World Health Organization guidelines to prevent the spread of the disease. As a recommended precaution, he no longer shakes hands with people in Ivory Coast and also frequently washes his hands in public so that residents will see that practical steps can help reduce the threat.

International health officials had said flight suspensions and the closure of sea ports and borders were not needed.


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