BERLIN – Ebola has reached Europe.
No, it is not just here via patients brought to isolation wards under strict security conditions to be saved from an otherwise relatively certain death by high-tech Western medicine. Now the virus has arrived in a Spanish hospital, having managed to pass from a priest infected in West Africa to a nurse.
It should be noted that this is in Madrid, in a fully equipped Western hospital in which all doctors and nursing staff were well aware of the deadly sickness they were dealing with.
With this, the Ebola catastrophe has reached a new dimension. And many people are panicking. Could, as happened in Dallas, Texas, an airline passenger with no symptoms bring in the virus? Can a patient in a high-security ward pass the virus to doctors and nurses and thus become a danger to us all? Is it no longer safe to go to the airport to fly off for a holiday? Should we be bracing to see around us here the same sort of conditions that prevail in Liberia?
Because mistakes can obviously happen everywhere, the simple answer to these questions is a conditional yes. Ebola could spread to Germany and elsewhere in Europe. A prominent advisor to the World Health Organization, Dr. Peter Piot, has warned that more cases of infected Western medical staff is likely.
Our society has become too mobile for viruses and other pathogens to be warded off at borders. The risk is minimal, but it's there. And the German health system is far superior to those of West African countries, so a similar epidemic as we're seeing in Africa is unlikely to happen here.
But it would still be wise for the authorities to get a better grip on the sorts of mistakes we saw in Madrid and Dallas. Why aren't some airlines banned or redirected? Why are people flying in from Liberia, Guinea or Sierra Leone not more rigorously monitored to check if they have had contact with Ebola victims? Why aren't they quarantined? Why is the staff in a high-security hospital ward not better trained and supervised?
The emergency remains in West Africa, where the situation continues to worsen. Every day, Ebola patients are dying and new people are becoming infected. The world community has failed to keep the catastrophe from spreading in those countries. Now it must not also fail to protect the rest of the world from the virus.
The growing number of people infected also increases our risk. Only more control, restrictions, and bans can bring greater security. And in view of the growing unease, such measures would probably be popular with the general public.