Foreign minister Julie Bishop has expressed concern about the Ebola virus outbreak at a UN Security Council meeting she chaired on the disease.
“The Security Council reiterates its grave concern about the unprecedented extent of the Ebola outbreak in Africa, which constitutes a threat to international peace and security, and the impact of the Ebola virus on West Africa, in particular, Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone,” Ms Bishop said overnight in New York.
“While recognising the important role that appropriate screening measures can play in stopping the spread of the outbreak the Security Council expresses its continued concern about the detrimental effect of the isolation of the affected countries as a result of trade and travel restrictions imposed on and to affected countries,” Ms Bishop said on behalf of the Security Council.
Bishop ‘a hypocrite’ on Ebola
The opposition seized on the statement, saying it contradicted the government’s visa ban on people from west Africa.
The coalition has attracted worldwide condemnation for the measure, which blocks applications from affected countries, while also cancelling and refusing non-permanent or temporary visas.
“Isn’t it extraordinary to see our foreign minister … lecturing the world on Ebola when Australia has been so slow to act, dragged kicking and screaming to doing anything,” Labor’s foreign affairs spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek told reporters in Sydney.
“I think this is an example where deeds matter more than words and our deeds so far have been inadequate.”
Labor and non-government organisations have long been calling for specialist teams to be sent to West Africa.
Instead, the coalition has given Aspen Medical $20 million in federal funding to run a 100-bed British-built military field hospital in Sierra Leone.
“The hypocrisy of this government knows no bounds,” Labor’s Matt Thistlethwaite told Sky News.
“They say one thing in New York and do the complete opposite here in Australia.”
‘Long battle ahead’
The head of the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER) warned the meeting by videoconference link that there was still “a long battle ahead of us”.
Fighting the epidemic “is going to require a tremendous increase in resources on the ground, in a dispersed geographic area”, Anthony Banbury said.
Last week, 533 new cases were reported in Sierra Leone, the highest weekly tally since the outbreak hit there, although recent data has shown a decline in cases in Liberia, the worst-hit country, and Guinea.
UN expands Ebola mission to Mali
The United Nations is expanding its Ebola emergency mission to include the west African country of Mali,
where six people have already died of the virus.
It came as the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned the number of people infected with Ebola has reached 15,351 in eight countries.
Since the outbreak started in West Africa late last year, 5459 people have died from the viral disease, according to the latest WHO figures.
Speaking in Washington DC, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the spread of Ebola in Mali was “a cause of deep concern” and instructed the UN mission for Ebola emergency response to urgently set up operations in the country.
“Decisive national action combined with international support today will help to prevent a spread of the outbreak in Mali to crisis proportions tomorrow,” Ban said.
The UN chief said Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita requested the UN’s assistance after the country recorded a total of six Ebola deaths.
In the country’s first Ebola case, a two-year-old girl who contracted the disease in neighbouring Guinea died without transmitting the virus.
The second wave of infections was brought in by an imam from Guinea – whose subsequent death has been reclassified as a Guinean case – who transmitted Ebola to at least five people.
Hundreds of others who have come into contact with him are being monitored.
Ban noted that while the overall rate of Ebola transmissions has slowed down in the three worst-affected countries, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the international community needs to keep up its efforts to stop the disease.
“I appeal to the international community to stay engaged,” Ban said.
“If we continue to accelerate our response, we can contain and end the outbreak by the middle of next year.”
Briefing the UN Security Council in New York, David Nabarro, UN special envoy on Ebola, said that a total of $US1.5 billion ($A1.62 billion) was needed through to next March to stop the outbreak.
In previous months, the UN estimated the initial cost of stopping Ebola to be about $US1 billion, with funding levels now at about $US800 million ($A865.57 million).
“The international community must maintain its urgent response,” Nabarro said.
“If we take our eye off the ball, case numbers will rise again, and we will all count the cost.”
The Security Council statement welcomed the robust international effort to stop the spread of the disease and called for continued assistance.
WHO said this week that Ebola is no longer rampant across all of Liberia and Guinea, while transmission continues across large parts of Sierra Leone.
In Switzerland, the Geneva University Hospitals started treating a 43-year-old Cuban doctor who contracted the virus while working in Sierra Leone.
The Cuban is the first Ebola patient being treated in Switzerland.
Ebola has taken a heavy toll among health care workers. WHO said 588 have fallen ill and 337 have died.