What the Ebola Outbreak Means for Travelers—Updated
As new cases of Ebola continue to be reported in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea—plus two each in Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo (the first outside of West Africa)—travel bans are increasing through the continent, implemented by both international airlines and local African governments. Here is what you need to know now.
Emirates and British Airways have suspended flights to the infected countries. Kenya Airways has since joined in, as has Korean Air Lines, which has canceled flights from Seoul to Nairobi—a seemingly overly cautious step since the Kenyan capital is more than 2,000 miles from the closest reported case, in Lagos, Nigeria. And the union representing Air France crews are currently petitioning the airline to halt flights to West Africa. Meanwhile, Botswana, South Africa, Kenya, and Zambia have closed their borders to people coming from Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea.
These travel bans go against the official recommendation from the World Health Organization. “Because the risk of Ebola transmission on airlines is so low, WHO does not consider air transport hubs at high risk for further spread of Ebola,” says Dr. Isabelle Nuttall, director of WHO Global Capacity Alert and Response. “Unlike infections such as influenza or tuberculosis, Ebola is not airborne. It can only be transmitted by direct contact with body fluid of a person who is sick with the disease.” As we reported last week, CDC notes that only those experiencing symptoms can transmit the virus, making it unlikely that someone contagious would even make it onto a plane.
Safari operators are already feeling the impact of Ebola. Those T+L spoke with reported a marked decline in call volume and an increased reluctance among clients to book in advance. Some people have even canceled trips to Southern Africa. Though the travel bans into Southern Africa countries are presumably there, in part, to support the tourism industry and ease travelers' concerns about Ebola's spread, Zambia- and Colorado-based Cherri Briggs of Explore, Inc., says they may, in fact, have the opposite effect by linking southern Africa with an area of the African continent that is actually closer to Europe. She and her colleagues stress that they do not consider there to be any risk to safari clients and staff.
What this means for those with already-booked safaris or considering a leisure trip in the near future: it is safe to proceed as planned, as far as the experts are concerned. Of course, you should only make a decision you feel comfortable with. But if you need extra peace of mind, you could buy a travel insurance plan with a Cancel for Any Reason policy (see Insuremytrip for options). For updates on the virus and where it is in Africa, Wilderness Safaris recommends checking the Southern African Tourism Update website, which has a great country-by-country guide.
Brooke Porter Katz is an Associate Editor at Travel + Leisure. Follow her on Twitter at @brookeporter1.