TORONTO – Canada is sending a charter plane to repatriate scientists who have been operating the country’s mobile Ebola laboratory in Sierra Leone.
The Public Health Agency of Canada says the three scientists remain in good health and appear to be at low risk of having contracted the often deadly virus.
The agency announced late Tuesday that it was pulling the team from a World Health Organization outpost at Kailahun, in eastern Sierra Leone, after learning three people at their hotel complex tested positive for Ebola.
The agency says the three will be assessed by a quarantine officer and officers from Canada Border Services when their plane arrives back in the country.
Once they have been cleared for entry, they will travel to private residences where they will be in voluntary isolation for the remainder of the 21-day incubation period.
For privacy reasons the Public Health Agency is not releasing the names of the scientists and won’t say when they will return.
Voluntary isolation means that the scientists will avoid contact with their families and others until they have been cleared as disease free. During the period their health will be monitored.
The agency has said the scientists did not have contact with the infected people. So it’s not immediately clear when the 21-day incubation period clock would have begun.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has already repatriated two of its scientists from Kailahun in response to the same incident. One, an epidemiologist, had worked in close proximity to a Senegalese epidemiologist who has contracted Ebola.
The CDC described the exposure as low risk, saying the two worked together in an office-type space. The CDC says its scientist was due to return to the U.S. anyway, so the agency decided to bring the individual home after the WHO temporarily shut down the operation to investigate how the Senegalese doctor became infected.
A second CDC staff person who had no contact with the infected man was nearing the end of his or her mission and was also flown back to the U.S. on the charter the American agency hired.
The WHO has asked people who are contacts of confirmed cases not to fly on commercial flights while they are in the incubation period of the disease.
The Public Health Agency says it will send another team of scientists to restart the lab operation at Kailahun after appropriate steps are taken to ensure a safe living environment for the scientists.
The WHO operation at Kailahun provided contact tracing, social mobilization and lab support for a large Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) treatment centre there.