While the debate continues in the US as to how best to protect Americans from a potential spread of Ebola, Australia has made a decision on a comprehensive policy. They will issue no new travel visas for people in Ebola-impacted nations in western Africa, and will require travelers from those countries on permanent visas or Australian passports to undergo a mandatory 21-day quarantine prior to entering the country. That applies to health-care professionals returning to Australia after serving in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone:
In the fight against Ebola, Australia has said: No thanks.
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison announced “strong controls” on arrivals from West African countries affected by cases of the deadly disease.
Telling Australia’s parliament during a question time session Monday that his ministry was currently “not processing any application from these (Ebola) affected countries,” he said that the government was also suspending its humanitarian program.
He added that holders of permanent Australian visas based in these countries would be subject to a mandatory, three-week quarantine process prior to their departure. Visitors approved to travel to Australia will also face further screening and followup checks upon arrival.
CNN’s Richard Quest and Kofi Annan are not happy with similar policies in New York and New Jersey (and also Illinois, which doesn’t get mentioned), claiming that the politicians aren’t listening to the scientists:
Bloomberg interviewed NYU Medical Center Professor Dr. Gerald Weissmann, who disputes that quarantines are “draconian,” the media’s favorite adjective ever since states began imposing isolation policies. Weissman says quarantines work, which is why governments use them. Weissman also says a travel ban — such as the one Australia just imposed — are a good policy to restrict the movement of the virus:
First, a 21-day quarantine hardly seems like a huge hurdle for people who spend months in western Africa to help combat the disease. It’s not exactly a dungeon, although the facilities that New Jersey rushed into place for Kaci Hickox turned out to be poorly thought out. More to the point, the idea of isolation and quarantine is to keep other people in the US from having the disease transferred to them, creating a health-care crisis here needlessly. The point of fighting Ebola in western Africa is to keep it from coming to the West. If we’re bringing it back via the volunteers, it’s shortly going to be seen as a counter-productive effort — and we’ve had one health-care professional return with it, and another patient from western Africa transfer it to two nurses, a situation which the CDC screwed up.
That second nurse, Amber Vinson, has been declared Ebola-free after her treatment and will leave the hospital today:
A news release from Emory University Hospital says Amber Vinson will be present at the news conference scheduled for 1 p.m. Tuesday and will make a statement.
Vinson worked as a nurse at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas and cared for Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian man who died of Ebola at the hospital.
Vinson’s family announced Oct. 22 that doctors could no longer detect the virus in Vinson’s body.
The CDC gave Vinson authorization to take a commercial flight after becoming symptomatic, even after one nurse from her unit had already been diagnosed with Ebola. That created hundreds of potential secondary transfers, all of whom are still in the incubation period and have to be monitored to ensure they don’t get the illness. Those are the types of errors that isolation and quarantine prevent.
That is the point of my column today for The Week. Not only would a comprehensive policy here make more sense than what we’ve had so far, it would also be a welcome change from the ad hoc treatment and incoherence of the Obama administration:
The Joint Chiefs have recommended that all returning service members in all branches observe a 21-day quarantine. When pressed, Earnest told reporters that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel may end up coordinating with the White House on whether to adopt that recommendation, but refused to divulge President Obama’s position. “We will let the Department of Defense make an announcement,” Earnest said.
The CDC ended up retreating late yesterday after the Obama administration pushback against quarantine policies. Frieden proposed a “do not board” list for high-risk personnel, keeping them from commercial air travel during the 21 days after their last exposure to Ebola. They did not go as far as the Pentagon in supporting quarantines, but instead called for voluntary self-isolation for those who may have had inadequate protective equipment while treating Ebola patients, or had an accidental needle stick during that period. Those at high risk would still be able to leave their homes, but would be discouraged from attending “congregate gatherings” like sporting events — presumably including bowling and restaurants, as Spencer did while experiencing “fatigue” prior to developing a fever.
This whole contradictory mess deepens the impression that the White House is making things up as it goes along. Within the last few days, one part of the Obama administration has criticized quarantines while another has imposed them, and the CDC has performed so poorly that public confidence in their competence has eroded. President Obama had appointed a former political aide to Joe Biden as his “Ebola czar,” but no one has heard anything from Ron Klain. Indeed, the administration’s responses have become more chaotic after that appointment rather than better organized.
Obama initially dismissed the danger of Ebola patients coming to the U.S. as “unlikely,” and then insisted that the CDC and the White House were prepared for the low-percentage chance it might. Obama made the right call on sending U.S. forces to fight Ebola in Africa, but clearly failed to articulate a strategy for those forces when they returned — almost literally having no exit plan. The appointment of Klain had nothing to do with science and everything to do with politics, and has had no impact whatsoever on the disorganization and contradictory messages coming from the federal government.
In that environment, it makes perfect sense for governors and military leaders to fill the leadership vacuum left by the White House. Cuomo responded to criticism of the quarantine policy by admitting he might be overcautious, but “I would rather be, in this situation, a little overcautious. And,” he added, “I think all New Yorkers feel the same.”
The scientists need to start acting like scientists instead of politically-correct prima donnas, and the Obama administration needs to get its act together and treat Ebola like a deadly disease instead of a banner for the tolerance brigades.