Ebola outbreak visa ban lifted; Nova Scotia community members pleased

Members of Nova Scotia's West African community say they're encouraged the Canadian government has lifted a restriction on visas to people from a country dealing with the Ebola outbreak.

Doctor, health-care consultant say visa ban was 'dumb' and never needed

Mohamed Yaffa lives in Halifax and is originally from Sierra Leone. He has family members still in Sierra Leone who are caught in the travel restrictions due to the Ebola outbreak. (CBC)

Members of Nova Scotia's West African community say they're encouraged the Canadian government has lifted a restriction on visas to people from a country dealing with the Ebola outbreak.

On Saturday, the World Health Organization declared Liberia free of Ebola after 42 days with no new confirmed cases.

Canada immediately announced it would restart processing temporary resident and permanent resident applications from that country. 

The Canadian government continues to refuse to process visa applications from Sierra Leone and Guinea, the other two affected countries in the West African Ebola outbreak.

"It's a big relief to us here," said Rahime Konneh, a student leader in the Liberian community in Halifax.

He says members of his community have been affected negatively by the Ebola crisis. Most families he knows had to send money to support family in Liberia. As well, the travel restrictions meant his family was unable to be with him for his Canadian graduation, although they are not ill.

Mohamed Yaffa lives in Halifax and is originally from Sierra Leone. He says he's encouraged to hear people from Liberia will be able to apply to enter Canada. 

"I'm pleased by the speed with which it came. Probably officials realized that it was not a good decision in the beginning so they rushed to lift the ban," he said Tuesday.

Yaffa has family members in Sierra Leone who are caught in the travel restrictions.

"My own nephew has applied to Dalhousie and has received acceptance to come and study health sciences — health promotion, particularly. But everything was held up," he said.

'It was dumb'

Canada put the visa ban in place last fall, but doctors like Michael Libman, the director of McGill University's Centre for Tropical Diseases, say it wasn't necessary. 

"It never made sense to put that general travel restriction in place. It was never a medically sensible thing to do, and it still isn't," Libman said. 

Libman said there was very little spread of the disease outside of West Africa, due to better health-care techniques. The only foreigners who became infected were health-care workers. 

"There was never in the Western world at all, any kind of spread by any kind of casual contact with anybody. That's never happened," he said.

"Putting a relatively draconian travel restriction — not allowing visas — for an event that has never happened even once — you could argue from a medical and scientific point of view that never made a whole lot of sense." 

Mary Jane Hampton, a health-care consultant, was outraged by the ban. 

"People weren't necessarily symptomatic when they were travelling, there was no way of really screening at airports. So it was dumb," she said.

Hampton says the ban stigmatized a community and may have encouraged people who really were ill to hide it. 

"The dangerous part was that it pushed people who potentially could be carriers of a dangerous illness underground," she said. 

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