Qatar has stopped issuing entry visas to travelers coming from countries affected by the deadly virus Ebola, an official from the Supreme Council of Health (SCH) confirmed.
The ban will remain in place until the health situation improves as part of a “protective strategy” employed by the SCH and the Ministry of Interior (MOI) to prevent the spread of Ebola to Qatar, the Gulf Times reports.
The director of the SCH’s public health department, Sheikh Dr Mohamed bin Hamad al-Thani, is reported to have made the statement during a workshop on “preparations for epidemics and and health conditions for Hajj.”
The ban will affect visitors to Qatar from countries including Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone, which have all had confirmed cases of Ebola.
According to the most recent update from the World Health Organization (WHO), as of Aug. 26, a total of 3,069 cases of Ebola have been officially recorded. There have been 1,552 deaths as a result of the virus.
While the virus has primarily struck Guinea, Liberia and Sierre Leone, Nigeria has had 17 associated cases, including 13 confirmed, of Ebola and a total of six deaths related to the virus.
Meanwhile, WHO officials say the first case of Ebola in Senegal has been confirmed.
The Ebola virus has non-specific symptoms and an incubation period of between two and 21 days.
As such, WHO recommends against imposing travel restrictions or screening arriving passengers with thermal imaging scanners to detect those who might have a fever, saying such measures are costly and ineffective.
However, passengers arriving recently into Hamad International Airport (HIA) have reported seeing cameras set up, just before passport control.
Dr. Mohamed al-Hajri, director of health protection and communicable diseases control in the SCH’s public health department, confirmed that thermal cameras were being used at HIA to detect and control the spread of viruses such as Ebola, the Gulf Times reports.
Al-Thani added that to date, no cases of Ebola had been detected at HIA.
It appears that the new visa ban is particularly affecting first-time visitors to Qatar arriving on tourist visas.
— Omoluabi (@basiratauwa) August 29, 2014
Several Nigerians who hold Qatar residency permits told Doha News they had recently re-entered the country, following a summer break, without problems.
However, Doha News has learned of at least one case in which a Nigerian woman and her two young children were denied entry to Qatar on Friday morning.
While no official reason was given for her refused entry, her family suspects it was due to fears over Ebola. Doha News was unable to verify the suspicions.
The woman was travelling to Qatar for the first time on a visit visa to meet her husband, who has been working here for a year.
On arrival in Qatar, the women and children were told by an immigration official they could not enter the country, and were taken by a security officer to departures.
They boarded a flight back to Nigeria later that night.
Speaking to Doha News, the family member – who asked not to be named – said:
“She feels really bad about what has happened. She is very disappointed and so is her husband.
“Everyone in Nigeria is very surprised about what happened. It’s the first time we have heard about someone being sent back.”
The Nigerian Ambassador to Qatar, Shuaibu Adamu Ahmed, told Doha News that the embassy was aware of the reported case and it was investigating the issue.
He said that Nigerians had been allowed into Qatar last week. However, he added that the embassy would be monitoring future flights from Nigeria to assess the situation.
A Qatar Airways flight from Lagos is due to land at HIA at 11:45pm tonight.
In a statement published on its website, Qatar Airways says it is “monitoring the situation (regarding Ebola) very closely.”
It adds: “(We) are in contact with both local and international health and aviation organisations to ensure that all necessary and appropriate measures are in place to protect our passengers, our staff and the general public.”
It advises passengers to avoid non-essential travel to Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.
Qatar’s tightening of restrictions follows the death earlier this month of a Nigerian woman, suspected to have had Ebola, who flew to Abu Dhabi on an Etihad flight.