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Ebola-hit west African countries isolated as airlines stop flights

Freetown: The three nations at the centre of the west African Ebola outbreak were left increasingly isolated today as more airlines suspended flights to the crisis zone. Air France has agreed to Paris's request for a "temporary suspension" of services to Sierra Leone, leaving its capital Freetown and Monrovia in neighbouring Liberia with just one regular service, from Royal Air Morocco.

"In light of the analysis of the situation and as requested by the French government, Air France confirms it is maintaining its program of flights to and from Guinea and Nigeria," the flag carrier said yesterday. Air France's decision came a day after British Airways said it was suspending flights to Liberia and Sierra Leone until next year due to Ebola concerns.

Health ministers from west African nations hit by Ebola will gather in the Ghanaian capital, Accra, today to discuss responses to the epidemic. Authorities in the worst-hit nations are scrambling to contain the most serious outbreak of the lethal tropical virus in history, which has killed more than 1,400 people since it erupted early this year.

The United Nations' envoy on Ebola, David Nabarro, earlier this week took a swipe at airlines who have scrapped flights to Ebola-hit countries, saying the growing isolation "makes it difficult for the UN to do its work". Brussels Airlines normally runs four flights a week to Liberia and Sierra Leone and three to Guinea, but has also cancelled several services since Saturday due to the closure of the Senegalese border.

The carrier said it would decide on its future schedule this weekend. The company committed to providing three separate flights to Freetown, Monrovia and Conakry this week in response to passenger demand and to deliver 40 tonnes of medical supplies from the United Nations.

Only Royal Air Morocco has vowed to stick to its normal flight schedule - once a day to Conakry and every other day on average to Monrovia and Freetown. "Our approach is supportive rather than mercenary," airline spokesman Hakim Challot told AFP, adding: "From Casablanca, the take-up of seats to these three countries is extremely low, around 10 per cent".

UN officials have pledged to step up efforts against the lethal tropical virus, which has infected more than 2,600 and killed 1,427 since the start of the year. Liberia has been worst hit, with 624 deaths recorded. Guinea, where the outbreak was first detected, has reported 406 deaths, Sierra Leone has 392 and Nigeria five, according to the WHO.

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