NGOs and Sierra Leoneans welcome Gambia Bird’s decision to resume twice-weekly flights to Freetown as ‘big step forward’ in tackling the disease.
A humanitarian corridor between London and Sierra Leone is to open next week to help tackle the Ebola epidemic after Gambia Bird decided to resume flights to the country.
Gambia Bird will fly twice a week from Gatwick from 17 October, raising much-needed capacity for aid workers, business travellers and health supplies to Sierra Leone where the disease is taking its toll on the population.
It will be the first direct commercial route opened since August, when both Gambia Bird and British Airways suspended flights because of the perceived risk of contacting the virus.
Only two airlines currently fly to Freetown – the Lufthansa owned Brussels Airlines and Royal Air Maroc.
Professor Peter Piot, the director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, one of the discoverers of the Ebola virus, welcomed the move. “The news that these flights are being resumed to Freetown is very welcome,” he said. “The social and economic impacts of this Ebola outbreak are devastating, and cutting off the affected countries from the rest of the world makes the situation even worse.
“We need flights to continue to facilitate humanitarian efforts and support the economy. Stopping them will not stop the spread of the virus.”
World leaders and experts on disease control gathered in London on Thursday to discuss the outbreak, as reports emerged suggesting that Ebola was spreading at the rate of five new cases an hour in Sierra Leone.
NGOs raised concerns about the lack of flights to affected areas in August, claiming it would further isolate communities and make it difficult to get staff and supplies into the country.
“This is a big step forward. It is highly significant. It will increase the options, reduce the costs in time and in terms of getting resources out there,” said Tom Dannatt, the founder of the British charity Street Child.
Gambia Bird’s main agent in the UK, Kevin McPhillips Travel, said the airline had “listened carefully to advice from leading international organisations, such as the UN and World Health Organisation, as well as IATA, the airline industry body, who have all stated it is important to maintain such air links.
“At the same time, they are ensuring they follow rigorous procedures before, during and after flights to ensure the health and safety of passengers and crew, which is of course paramount.”
Tuesday October 07, 2014