The Australian government will not send health workers to west Africa until it can guarantee their safe evacuation in the event they contract Ebola.
The Australian government will not be sending health workers to Ebola outbreak zones until it can guarantee a safe evacuation plan.
Despite talks with nations including the UK, US and throughout Europe, Australia has been unable to ensure a treatment or evacuation plan is in place for its personnel should they be sent to west Africa, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop says.
“I do not have in place a guarantee that should an Australian health worker … contract Ebola, they would be able to be transported or treated in a hospital either in the region or in Europe,” she told reporters in Launceston on Saturday.
“And until I have that in place we will not be sending Australian health workers.”
The minister has previously told parliament that Australia does not have planes equipped to transport Ebola patients back to Australia and even if it did, the flight time of 30 hours is “clinically and logistically unsafe”.
The minister presumed that Australian health workers travelling privately to the outbreak region would be covered by a credible plan provided by their affiliate organisation.
The Australian government has contributed $18 million for equipment and supplies in west Africa since the Ebola outbreak.
“That’s the kind of practical response we are providing but I am not putting at risk the lives of health workers,” Ms Bishop said.
Ms Bishop’s comments follow an Ebola scare in northern Australia where Cairns nurse and Red Cross worker Sue Ellen Kovack, 57, returned from working in Sierra Leone with symptoms, including a fever.
Initial tests have cleared Ms Kovack of Ebola but she remains in hospital isolation until at least Monday, with a second round of testing scheduled for Sunday.
Queensland MP Bob Katter has accused Ms Kovack of putting the country at risk of Ebola through her “humanitarian ambitions” in west Africa.
Mr Katter has also called for an investigation into why Ms Kovack was treated in the Cairns emergency department, rather than in an isolated medical ward, saying the handling of her case was “beyond comprehension”.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said Ms Kovack deserves a pat on the back.
“Our nurses and our medical staff, be they in Australia or people courageously volunteering and doing work overseas, they deserve a pat on the back – they are real heroes and don’t deserve any criticism,” Mr Shorten told reporters in Sydney on Saturday.
Screening measures are being ramped up at international airports around the nation – despite the Health Department saying the risk of an Ebola outbreak remains low – and as it emerged 11 Australians had been tested and cleared. Mr Shorten said while Ebola was a topic of concern in the community, people shouldn’t be unduly worried.
Ms Kovack recently returned from volunteering at hospitals in Sierra Leone – one of the countries hardest hit by the virus that has taken more than 4000 lives in West Africa.
She isolated herself at home on her return, but reported to authorities she had a low-grade fever, as per normal protocol, and was admitted to hospital on Thursday.
A Queensland Health spokesman told AAP on Saturday most of Ms Kovack’s symptoms had subsided.
Queensland Health is expected to provide updates on Ms Kovack’s condition throughout the weekend.