Two Irish Goal workers were among passengers on a plane in Africa this morning when a passenger fell ill - prompting a crew member to don a space-man like protective suit amid fears of Ebola.
Former children's minister Barry Andrews, the CEO of aid agency GOAL, and Dave Williams, media officer with the organisation were flying on a Royal Air Maroc flight from Freetown in Sierra Leon to Casablanca in Morocco when the incident happened.
It is understood that the flight had originated in Monrovia in Liberia.
Both Liberia and Sierra Leone are epicentres for the recent Ebola outbreak which has claimed more than 2,400 lives since May.
“I was asleep and happened to wake to see a guy in the full personal protective equipment (PPE) walking down the aisle,” Mr Williams told Independent.ie.
“It was like something out of a film. We have been working on health initiatives for the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leon, so seeing that suit on the plane was quite a shock.”
The crew member in the protective gear went to the bathroom cubicle at the back of the plane and remained there for the rest of the flight.
The incident started about one hour into the four hour flight.
Other crew members wore face masks.
“We asked one of them why they were wearing space masks and he said, ‘We think a passenger might have Ebola,’” Independent.ie photographer Mark Condren, also on the flight, said.
“We asked why the passengers were not given face masks, and he didn’t have an answer.”
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has issued guidelines saying that while Ebola is highly contagious through contact, it is not airborne and flying is “very low risk. “
it is understood the sick passenger was a male who had a temperature above 39C.
One of the initial symptoms of Ebola is a fever.
Two of the Irish men then attempted to take a picture of the scene on their smartphones – which were in ‘airplane mode’ – only to have another crew member claim that taking photographs was “illegal” and demand the photos be deleted.
“We asked her to explain how it was illegal and she replied: ‘That’s fine, we’ll have the police waiting for you on the other side’,” Mr Condren added.
The Boeing 737-800 landed in Casablanca at 9.15am Irish time with an ambulance crew waiting for the patient.
Independent.ie has attempted to contact Air Maroc for a comment.
THE ambulances racing through the rutted streets of Kenema no longer turn on their sirens. It is one of the underwhelming attempts by authorities to improve the psychology of weary and wary locals, for whom any medical emergency registers as another suspected case of Ebola in their city.