Looking beyond an Ebola ban
It is a natural reaction, when facing a threat – real or perceived – for humans to fight for survival.
We face the threat head on and beat it to the ground, or use evasive action to dodge and avoid, or create a barrier between ourselves and that which threatens us. Those responses are all understandable and expected.
It should therefore have come as no surprise when Barbadians – fearful that the deadly Ebola virus could reach our shores and devastate this 166 square mile island unable to cope with an outbreak – called on the authorities to ban West African travellers from entering this country.
They pointed to our Caribbean neighbours that have made it clear travellers from Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea – the three West African countries most affected by the virus – would not be welcomed in their islands and called on the Freundel Stuart administration to follow suit.
The response has been swift and clear: No ban.
Minister of Tourism Richard Sealy, as he disclosed that an oil tanker had been denied entry into Barbados’ waters because two people on board had “symptoms deemed to be Ebola-like”, pointed out:
“If you go and identify three countries in West Africa where there are Ebola cases and ban travel from there, what happens when you have a couple of cases in the United Kingdom? Are we going to shut down the UK source market and ban travel from there too? It doesn’t make sense . . .”
On the flip side, others argue that there is more at stake if a ban is not implemented and just one person carrying the virus gains entry, not only putting the health of the population of this small country at risk but scaring off visitors from the same tourist markets and possibly making Barbados the subject of a travel ban. Either situation has the potential to be just as devastating as closing off our borders to countries affected by Ebola as they could decimate the country’s number one foreign exchange earning sector.
The arguments for and against a ban are numerous and Government’s decision not to follow the lead of some of its Caribbean neighbours has divided the population.
But there is an issue bigger than the implementation, or lack thereof, of a travel ban.
While the fearful and the concerned among us worry about infected persons from countries where, out of a population of hundreds of millions, fewer than 5,000 have been infected, and insist on shutting out visitors from West Africa, Ebola could slip through another unmanned door.
Neither the UK nor the United States – Barbados’ main tourist markets – have banned travel to any Ebola-affected country.
As travel continues unhindered between the countries of those we fear – the Ebola infected – and those we welcome – the vital tourists – the possibility of an Ebola-carrier reaching our shores increases. Will those travellers be screened?
And what about Barbadians who travel overseas, are unwittingly exposed to persons carrying the virus, and then return home? Will they be checked to ensure they are not returning with an unwelcomed guest?
And if they test positive for the Ebola virus, what then?
There are still more questions than answers.
We need to put aside the arguments against and for a ban against travel from West African countries and focus on what else needs to be done to protect Barbados from joining the list of countries now fighting the disease.
We need to hear more about what the Government is doing to protect its citizens, other than blocking the entry of one cargo ship carrying two persons with Ebola-like symptoms.