* Shuts Guinea border, bans flights from three countries
* U.N. humanitarian flights from Dakar suspended - source
* Senegal has no Ebola cases but seen as vulnerable
By Emma Farge
DAKAR, Aug 22 Regional humanitarian hub Senegal
said on Friday it had blocked a regional U.N. aid plane from
landing and was banning all further flights to and from
countries affected by Ebola, potentially hampering the emergency
response to the epidemic.
A number of aid agencies have their regional headquarters in
politically stable Senegal. Both medical charity MSF and the
United Nations, which are leading efforts to contain a West
African Ebola epidemic that has killed at least 1,350 people,
had planned to operate regional flights from the country.
The World Health Organisation has repeatedly said it does
not recommend travel or trade restrictions for countries
affected by Ebola, saying such measures could heighten food and
"We have strengthened our protection strategy by suspending
services that link us to countries affected by Ebola since
yesterday," said Senegal's tourism and air transport minister,
Abdoulaye Diouf Sarr.
Senegal's southern land border with Guinea had also been
shut, he said.
Dakar's interior ministry said that the closure referred
only to Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia and not to Nigeria,
where substantially fewer cases of Ebola have been reported.
Senegal has reported no confirmed cases of Ebola.
Asked by Reuters whether there would be exceptions for
humanitarian flights, Health and Social Action Minister Awa
Marie Coll Seck said: "When we adopt new measures we implement
them and afterwards we will see if there are exceptions."
A regional flight coming to the capital Dakar carrying aid
workers from Liberia's capital Monrovia via Freetown and Conakry
was prevented from landing on Thursday, according to sources
familiar with the matter.
Sarr confirmed that the flight was prevented from landing.
He said the plane's flight origin had been given as Mali's
Bamako and not Monrovia.
A source at the World Food Programme, which operates the
United Nations Humanitarian Air Service flights, confirmed that
its flights would be suspended until further notice. The daily
regional service began on Aug. 16 and three flights were due to
leave from Dakar this week, a provisional schedule showed.
Medecins sans Frontieres had also sought permission to
operate a regional service but Senegal refused permission,
citing "elevated risk", according to a document issued by its
aviation body ANACIM dated 21 August and seen by Reuters.
"This is a catastrophe. We need a better response but
there's no way for us to do it," said an official at an
organisation affected by the flight disruption.
The current Ebola epidemic is the worst in history and has
hit hardest in countries whose health systems are ill-equipped
to cope with it. Like Sierra Leone and Liberia where new cases
are rising fastest, Senegal has a low ratio of doctors to its
population with just one for more than 17,000 people, according
to political risk research company DaMina Advisors.
Other African countries have tightened travel restrictions
this week in an effort to contain the outbreak. Chad closed its
border with Nigeria and South Africa said it was banning all
travellers from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone from entering
its territory, barring its own citizens.
(Editing by Joe Bavier/Mark Heinrich)