Korean Air Lines Co. will suspend flights to the Kenyan capital Nairobi because of the Ebola virus, becoming the first airline to pull out of an East African destination thousands of miles from the deadly outbreak.
The decision is an overreaction, with the risk of Ebola spreading by air travel low, World Health Organization official Isabelle Nuttall said in Geneva. Korean Air will scrap Nairobi services starting Aug. 20, it said today in an e-mailed statement. While Kenya is far from the region with Ebola cases, its capital city is a focus for flights to other continents.
Heightened concern over air travel arose in part because a Liberian man with Ebola took a flight to Nigeria and died in Lagos, infecting others there. Countries should take steps to ensure that sick people don’t board flights, though the likelihood of other passengers and crew coming into contact with their bodily fluids on a plane is small, Nuttall said. There will be plenty of false alarms, she added.
“In the coming days there will be rumors all over the world,” Nuttall, director of the WHO’s department for global capacity, alert and response said at a briefing. “Let’s all be ready to deal with these rumors. It’s not because you have fever and you come back from Sierra Leone that you have Ebola.”
Korean Air’s decision came after a WHO official in Kenya described the country as “high risk” for the spread of the virus because it’s a transport hub for Africa. The outbreak, which has killed more than 1,000 people, is centered on the other side of the continent from Kenya, in the West African countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Kenya Airways Ltd., sub-Saharan Africa’s third-biggest airline, will continue to fly to West African destinations, it said in an e-mailed statement today. The carrier will review management protocols in the capitals of Liberia and Sierra Leone -- Monrovia and Freetown -- to stop the spread of the virus, the release said.
British Airways and Emirates have canceled some routes to countries where the disease is present, while most airlines have responded by stepping up medical screening of passengers.
The virus was first identified in 1976, and there is no vaccine or assured treatment. An ethics panel at the WHO said this week that people in West Africa should be allowed access to promising experimental treatments or vaccines.