Media Release

Appropriate biosecurity measures at airports to help manage Ebola risk

17 October 2014

Australia's Minister for Agriculture, Barnaby Joyce, said today it was important that Australians were aware of the fact that the Department of Agriculture played a strategic role in the biosecurity challenges facing the nation, including the recent increase in precautions due to the spread of Ebola.

"The Department of Agriculture has the critically important responsibility of maintaining our biosecurity at the border – that means safeguarding human health as well as animal and plant health – from exotic diseases and pests," Minister Joyce said

"Although Australia has had no confirmed cases of Ebola, we continue to work closely with the Chief Medical Officer and the Department of Health so that we are best prepared for the challenges of this health issue.

"Australians do not need to be alarmist, but we do need to be diligent."

Minister Joyce said growing community concern about the threat Ebola might pose is understandable with widespread reporting of World Health Organization estimates of up to 10,000 new cases in western Africa, each week, by the end of this year.

"However, Australia is in a strong position internationally because we have one system that covers human health, plant health and animal health. Both the Departments of Agriculture and Health use science to determine the appropriate response.

"The Department of Agriculture also has expertise gained at the border from managing many other diseases including tuberculosis and yellow fever. Every day my staff deal with passengers whose health status may require intervention, including whether a passenger may need to be quarantined.  This is always done with trained health professionals."

Minister Joyce said increased measures at Australia's international airports included identifying higher risk passengers ahead of flights, undertaking health screening at the border and referring passengers to appropriate state health authorities for assessment if required.

"Since 9 August about 847 international aircraft passengers have been identified as potentially higher risk – and of these only nine have been referred to state health authorities for additional assessment," Minister Joyce said.

"Importantly, none of these have been linked to any disease of biosecurity concern."

Minister Joyce said the Department of Agriculture would continue to work co-operatively with the Department of Health to monitor the situation at the country's borders.