Channel NewsAsia

Local organisations step up precautions against Ebola virus

Some travel agencies have cancelled tours to South Africa, while others are changing their itineraries to exclude bat-viewing and game meat. 

SINGAPORE: The Nigerian man suspected of having the deadly Ebola virus in Hong Kong has tested negative, said Chinese media on Sunday (Aug 10). The man, who arrived in Hong Kong last Thursday, was the city's second Ebola scare in two weeks. While both cases tested negative, health experts are stressing the need for vigilance.

In Singapore, several organisations have stepped up precautions against the virus. Christian mission agency WEC International on Monday (Aug 11) said it has stopped sending volunteers to West Africa for the time being, and most of the Singaporeans who were volunteering in West Africa have returned home.

Some travel agencies have also cancelled tours to South Africa due to the Ebola outbreak, even though South Africa is more than 6,000 km away from ground zero of the virus in West Africa. Of the five travel agencies Channel NewsAsia spoke with, two have cancelled tours to South Africa that were supposed to take place between September and December.

One of the agencies originally had six groups heading to South Africa, but it is allowing its customers to cancel their tours. Some of the customers have chosen to go to Europe or the United States instead, while the majority have postponed their trips until further notice.

At another agency, 13 tour groups are heading to South Africa as planned, but their itineraries will be changed. Activities such as bat-viewing are no longer on the cards, and game meat will be taken off the menu, as the Ebola virus can be transmitted to people through wild animals' blood and secretions.

Said Mr Freddie Lee, marketing manager of Super Travels: “We had a few groups going to South Africa earlier this year. We highlighted to our agent that we would like to change the game meal. Instead of giving them ostrich, we have changed to abalone as well as lobster meals.”

The agency also has pre-trip orientation briefings where customers are told not to touch and feed the animalsa they see in South Africa, and not to have meals on their own outside, said Mr Lee. 

Singapore's Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA) said it has not imported wildlife other than ornamental birds from West Africa since 2008, and animals imported into Singapore must meet the authorities' animal health, quarantine and import requirements. 

According to the AVA, only healthy animals from approved sources are allowed to be imported, and it accredits sources of zoological animals to ensure that the animals imported are healthy.