Canada drops visa ban for Liberia

World Health Organization had criticized Canada’s initial decision to close borders to those from Ebola-affected countries

TORONTO – The Canadian government says it will again issue visas to people from Liberia, now that the West African country has been declared Ebola-free.

The World Health Organization announced Saturday that Liberia has gone 42 days without an Ebola infection, a milestone that signals the outbreak in that country is believed to be over.

In late October, Canada made the controversial decision to close borders to people from Ebola-affected countries, saying it would not process visa applications from residents and nationals of countries with widespread and persistent or intense Ebola transmission.

The policy did not impede the return of Canadian medical personnel or those working for international aid organizations who travelled to Ebola-affected countries to help combat the outbreak.

The World Health Organization and experts in global health law criticized the Canadian decision, saying it violated the International Health Regulations, a treaty to which Canada is a signatory.

That treaty stipulates that in a global public health emergency, countries shouldn’t take actions that impede international trade or travel beyond what the World Health Organization recommends.

The WHO had urged countries not to restrict travel to and from the three West African countries at the heart of the outbreak.

Canadian officials insisted that because the visa policy did not affect the travel of Canadians helping to contain the outbreak it was not a general ban and therefore did not violate the International Health Regulations.

The Canadian visa restrictions still apply to Guinea and Sierra Leone, which are struggling to extinguish Ebola transmission more than a year after this unprecedented outbreak began.

Liberia recorded 10,564 cases of Ebola, with 4,716 deaths. The most recent figures from the WHO put the total for the West African outbreak at 26,628 cases and 11,020 deaths.

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