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The U.S. is Ebola-free again now that Dr. Craig Spencer, the last patient in the U.S. who had contracted the disease, was cured and released from New York’s Bellevue Hospital, where he had been treated for 19 days. Spencer contracted the disease while working for Doctors Without Borders in Guinea.
Spencer appeared at a news conference with New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who called him a “hero.” Spencer told the audience that his recovery shows that the protocols for public health work.
“I am a living example of how those protocols work,” he said, “and of how early detection and isolation is critical to both surviving Ebola and ensuring that it is not transmitted to others.”
Mayor de Blasio and his wife, poet Chirlane McCray, both hugged Spencer.
Now the U.S. joins the list of countries that had cases of Ebola but are now Ebola-free.
Good news never seems to spread as quickly as bad, but nevertheless the good news stories have been outpacing the bad for a while now.
Nigeria is now free of the disease, as are Sierra Leone and Senegal. Liberia has reported a slowing of the epidemic. Two vaccines have been approved for the disease. The World Health Organization came out on Nov. 7 with a statement against travel and trade bans and general quarantine of travelers from Ebola-affected countries. Mali had a single case, which was contracted in Guinea, and now the country is Ebola free.
Clearly the worst is over, both for the epidemic itself and for the panic it generated.
“I think the learning here is that Ebola, while terrible, is ultimately controllable,” said Robert Drumm, president of Alexander + Roberts. “Perhaps Mali is even more important since it’s been eradicated there entirely. The world needs to focus on West Africa and helping those suffering now.”
Unfortunately for the African travel industry, the wave of panic that took hold when the first case of Ebola in the U.S. was reported did not disappear as quickly as the disease itself. While hysteria arrives in tidal waves, it only dissipates gradually. Though it was blown out of proportion to the real danger, the damage to the tourism industry is deep and lingering.
"The entire Ebola episode was a tempest in a teapot," said Max Aly, director of operations for SITA World Tours, "Nevertheless, the megalomaniacal media did the maximum possible damage and has now moved on to other pastures. The worst affected were not the phantom victims of Ebola, but the very real people who live and work in the tourist trade. We can only hope that in future, the media moguls will pause and consider the ramifications to the very real victims of their thoughtless, sensational journalism."
For safari operators, whose businesses were decimated by a panic over something thousands of miles from where they operate, the return to normalcy is likely to be long and hard. Patiently and continually putting out their messages is about all they can do.
“We put out newsletters and such about the nonexistence of it in southern, eastern and northern Africa and that there is no need to be afraid,” said David Wong, team leader for AfricaExperts by Goway. “We’ll just have to wait it out and hopefully get the clients coming back. I don’t think there is much we can do about it except trying to educate clients with newsletters and so forth.”
While tour operators will continue to push out their anti-panic messages, they need help from the government, according to Ashish Sanghrajka, president of Big Five Tours and Expeditions.
"The US government needs to make an official policy on its stance regarding citizens returning from Africa," said Sanghrajka. "The traveling public need the same assurance about being able to return safely into the U.S. as they are being reassured about the country being Ebola free. Secondly, there needs to be as much noise if not more as each country in Africa that has been affected is declared Ebola free. And those announcements will be coming soon since the number of new cases has been dropping so rapidly."
Anastasia’s Africa is publicizing its new “Worry Free Ebola Policy” with a big blue button on its website.
“We are so confident that there will be no Ebola outbreak in South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Uganda, Seychelles, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Egypt and Morocco that we are prepared to amend our standard terms and conditions to offer a guaranteed 100 percent refund to all clients who have booked with us in advance, and end up having to cancel or postpone in the unlikely event that the Ebola outbreak spreads to one of these countries."
Now it's just a waiting game.