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Ebola fears spur more travel bans

Caribbean nations restrict travelers from West Africa as the White House resists calls for similar bans in the US

Jamaica, Guyana and Trinidad & Tobago have joined a growing list of countries to restrict travelers from West African nations struggling with the Ebola virus, as calls for similar measures grow louder in the United States.

The announcements on Thursday came a day after Colombia and St. Lucia ordered similar prohibitions. Authorities in Jamaica imposed an immediate entry ban on anyone who has been in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone – the three countries hit hardest by Ebola – within four weeks. 

Guyana's government said that country's diplomatic missions had been directed not to issue visas to people from West African nations affected by the virus while Trinidad & Tobago said it would deny entry to any resident of Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo or Sierra Leone. Other travelers who have visited any of those nations within six weeks will be quarantined for 21 days upon their arrival.

Meanwhile, over two dozen African countries have put in place travel restrictions for those returning from countries battling the outbreak. The restrictions range from subjecting returning travelers to a 21-day monitoring period to an outright entry ban. 

The developments come as Republican lawmakers on Thursday pressed for a ban on travel to the United States from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. 

So far, though, the White House has resisted the idea. President Barack Obama said that experts have told him that a ban would be less effective than measures currently in place, including exit screenings in which passengers have their temperatures checked before departure and upon entering the U.S.

Analogies to HIV fears

On Thursday, White House Spokesman Josh Earnest said imposing a ban might lead travelers "to go underground and to seek to evade this screening and to not be candid about their travel history in order to enter the country." 

While Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Thomas Frieden said his agency would consider all options to help better protect Americans, Frieden reiterated why he believes a travel ban would not be wise.

“Right now we know who’s coming in,” he said. “If we try to eliminate travel, the possibility that some will travel over land, will come from other places, and we don’t know that they’re coming in, will mean we won’t be able to do multiple things.”

In the event that infected patients entered the U.S. through illegal means, Frieden said authorities would be unable to check travelers for fever when they leave their departure point in West Africa. 

Some analysts have recently compared calls for a travel ban during the Ebola outbreak to what the U.S. experienced during the 1980s and 1990s with the AIDS epidemic. 

“Americans nationwide are showing signs of an epidemic of fear, all too reminiscent of the stigmatization, dread of contagion and panic of the early years of HIV/AIDS,” wrote columnist Steven Petrow in The Washington Post. 

In 1987, Petrow points out, the Department of Health and Human Services imposed a ban on people with HIV from entering the U.S. It wasn’t until 2009 that Obama moved to lift the ban. 

“Instead of halting the spread of HIV, it resulted in fewer people being tested, which helped spread the disease," Petrow wrote.

Al Jazeera and wire services. Philip J. Victor contributed to this report. 

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