European foreign ministers gather in Luxembourg Monday to try and formalise a joint EU response to combat the Ebola virus amid diplomatic warnings the crisis has reached a “tipping point”.
The ministers will meet hours after it was announced that a Spanish nurse who was the first person outside Africa to be infected had tested negative for the virus.
Ahead of the talks, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the bloc should consider sending “a civilian EU mission” to west Africa.
One EU diplomat said Britain — which already has a navy ship bound for Sierra Leone laden with medical staff and supplies — hoped to “galvanise EU action on Ebola”.
Another diplomat said there are plans for three nations to spearhead global aid to the worst-hit countries: the United States for Liberia, Britain for Sierra Leone and France for Guinea.
A global UN appeal for nearly $1 billion (785 billion euros) has so far fallen short, with only $385.9 million given by governments and agencies, and a further $225.8 million promised.
– Nurse tests negative –
The political move comes as Madrid announced on Sunday that Teresa Romero, a nurse hospitalised on October 6, has tested negative for the virus.
The 44-year-old will have to undergo a second test before she can officially be declared free of Ebola, the Spanish government said.
Romero contracted the tropical fever after caring for two Ebola patients who died at Madrid’s Carlos III hospital, in the first known case of transmission outside Africa.
She will be given another test “in the coming hours”, according to a statement from Spain’s special Ebola committee, which added that her “health was… developing favourably”.
The worst-ever outbreak of the deadly virus has so far killed more than 4,500 people, almost all in west Africa, with close to 2,500 deaths registered in worst-hit Liberia.
Isolated cases among health workers in the US and Europe have sparked fear that the epidemic could turn global and prompted Western countries to ramp up their response.
Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said a generation of Africans were at risk of “being lost to economic catastrophe” because of the crisis, warning that the “time for talking or theorising is over”.
The virus, for which there is currently no licensed treatment or vaccine, spreads via contact with bodily fluids.
Some countries have managed to get a handle on the outbreak, with Africa’s most populous nation Nigeria expected to be declared free of Ebola on Monday after 42 days without registering any new infections.
– ‘We made mistakes’-
With panic spreading in Western countries about the tropical disease, US President Barack Obama on Saturday cautioned Americans against “hysteria”.
US media have been reporting on a string of false alarms among a public spooked by the news that two American nurses at a Texas hospital had contracted the virus after treating a Liberian patient who died from Ebola on October 8.
The Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital on Sunday apologised over its handling of the case.
The United States, Britain and Canada were joined by France this weekend in screening air passengers from Ebola-hit zones ahead of a review of EU practices this week.
Belgium’s prime minister said it would start screening passengers from west Africa on Monday, while France dismissed a call by unions representing Air France cabin staff to suspend flights to Guinea.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, speaking during a visit to Beijing, warned that halting the airline’s daily Paris-Conakry flight would encourage riskier forms of travel that could spread the virus even faster.
Obama has also played down the idea of a travel ban on flights from west Africa.
As of October 14, 4,555 people had died from Ebola out of a total of 9,216 cases registered in seven countries, the Geneva-based World Health Organization said.