The Department of Health has moved to allay fears of the Ebola virus spreading to Australia after the World Health Organisation declared the epidemic an international health emergency.
Minister for Health Peter Dutton said on Friday that Australia was fully equipped to deal with any suspect case of the virus should it arrive in the country.
Ebola now an 'international health emergency'
Soldiers run checkpoints to help stem the spread of Ebola through western Africa as the World Health Organization says the epidemic is now an international public emergency.
"The announcement that World Health Organisation has declared the West African Ebola virus outbreak as a public health emergency of international concern does not change the risk to Australia, which remains very low," Mr Dutton said.
"Incoming flights to Australia have on-board announcements, asking passengers who are feeling unwell with fever, chills or sweats to alert a crew member. Crew members would alert border protection and biosecurity staff for health follow-up.
"The health of people who have originated their travel from Africa is also being checked.
"If there is a suspect case detected, Australia has first-class laboratory testing facilities and our hospitals and medical staff are fully prepared and on alert."
On Friday afternoon, the WHO said West Africa's raging epidemic of Ebola virus was an ''extraordinary event'' and said it now constituted an international health risk.
The United Nations health agency in Geneva said the possible consequences of further international spread of the outbreak, which has killed almost 1000 people in four West African countries, are ''particularly serious'' in view of the virulence of the virus.
''A co-ordinated international response is deemed essential to stop and reverse the international spread of Ebola,'' WHO said in a statement after a two-day meeting of its emergency committee on Ebola.
WHO also said there should be no general ban on international travel or trade due to the Ebola outbreak.
Australia's Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Baggoley, was a member of the WHO emergency committee on Ebola.
"In overseeing Australia's national response, Professor Baggoley advises that while Ebola is a very serious disease, it is not highly contagious,” Mr Dutton said.
"Ebola is not influenza; it is not caught through coughing or sneezing. It is only caught through contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person or animal."
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on Friday maintained that Australians should reconsider their need to travel to west Africa, specifically Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. DFAT also notes on its travel advisory that there are several likely cases of the disease in Nigeria.
Earlier this week WHO said it would convene a group of medical ethicists early next week to wrestle with questions about the use of experimental drugs in the deepening Ebola outbreak.
The director of the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention told Congress on Thursday that he has activated the agency's emergency operation centre at the highest response level to fight the worst Ebola outbreak in history.
Thomas Frieden testified at an emergency Congressional hearing that the CDC has more than 200 staff members in Atlanta working on the outbreak, and will soon have more than 50 disease experts in West Africa.
In Liberia, the healthcare system is collapsing, hospitals are closing down and medical workers fleeing from the Ebola epidemic, which is poised to worsen, according to the country's foreign minister.
''People are dying from common diseases because the healthcare system is collapsing,'' Minister of Foreign Affairs Augustine Kpehe Ngafuan said in an interview with Thomson Reuters Foundation on Thursday.
Overwhelmed west African nations earlier called states of emergency as the the death toll from Ebola continued to rise.
Soldiers in Liberia's Grand Cape Mount province – one of the worst-affected areas – set up roadblocks to limit travel to the capital Monrovia, where politicians gathered to ratify a 90-day state of emergency as bodies reportedly lay unburied in the city's streets.
Two towns in the east of Sierra Leone, Kailahun and Kenema, were put in quarantine on Thursday, a government spokesman said, as nightclubs and entertainment venues across the country were ordered shut.
Public sector doctors in Nigeria suspended a month-long strike with fears rising that the virus is taking hold in Africa's most populous country.
with Reuters, Washington Post, AFP