Guest post by Kristinn Taylor
The Obama administration’s Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz spoke to reporters Wednesday about the Ebola outbreak in West African nations and its effects on President Obama’s African leaders summit being held in Washington, D.C. next week.
Speaking on Air Force One on a return trip from Kansas City, Missouri, Schultz told a press gaggle that, “In terms of the summit, I would tell you that we’re working closely with regional governments to stem the spread of the virus. We have no plans to change any elements of the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, as we believe all air travel continues to be safe here.”
Schultz did not specify what steps the government is taking to keep the Ebola virus out of the nation’s capital during the summit.
As the Gateway Pundit was first to report this week, (here, here and here) the Obama administration has invited leaders of around fifty African nations to the summit, including those affected by the virus: Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Guinea. The administration has asked federal workers in the D.C. area to stay home during the summit and to be aware for a possible announcement of a government shut down on short notice.
A Liberian government official, Patrick Sawyer, was killed by the Ebola virus last week after traveling by passenger plane from Liberia to Nigeria via Togo to attend an international conference. Sawyer’s death raised fears that the virus could be spread by international plane travelers like those attending the D.C. summit. Sawyer was a naturalized American citizen who was due to return this month to Minnesota to visit his wife and daughters.
Paul Bedard at the Washington Examiner reports that while leaders of Liberia and Sierra Leone have decided not attend the summit affected nations are sending large delegations and entourages:
“At least one of those leaders attending the Sunday-Wednesday summit, Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan, is bringing a 73-person entourage. Those from Guinea and Liberia are also expected to be large.
“While the travel of the entourages and support staff such as jet crews is naturally raising concerns, the White House tamped down worries and said the summit will go on.”
…”In Liberia, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said she will stay home but send Vice President Joseph Boakai instead.
“Guinea President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo wants to discuss regional security and energy at the summit.
“Nigeria’s Jonathan had hoped to meet one-on-one with Obama but was turned down.
“And Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma cancelled his trip so that he could deal with the emergency.”
Q Is the President being briefed on the Ebola outbreak in Africa? And will it be addressed at the Africa summit and/or alter the Africa summit in any way?
MR. SCHULTZ: Yes, we continue — well, no, it will not alter the summit, but we do continue to monitor the outbreak of the Ebola virus in Guinea, in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria closely. The President is indeed receiving regular updates, including speaking with his Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Advisor Lisa Monaco as early as yesterday before departing Washington.
The U.S. government, including the Departments of State, Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control, USAID and the Department of Defense, continue to provide a range of support and assistance to those countries and multinational organizations responding to the outbreak.
This includes the provision of personal protective equipment and other essential supplies, public health messaging and technical expertise. We’ve actually been engaged in this outbreak since March. Obviously, our response has been ratcheted up in the past few weeks.
Q Is he aware of the two Americans who have contracted the disease?
MR. SCHULTZ: Yes. And as the CDC has said, this is not a risk to the United States at this time.
Q I want to ask about that. Is the White House at all worried, though? I mean, the U.K. expressed today concern about the spread of the disease. How worried is the White House and the administration that the virus could make its way to the United States?
MR. SCHULTZ: Roberta, as I said, we are aware of the reports that U.S. citizens have been diagnosed with the virus. We have no higher priority than the protection of U.S. citizens overseas. But again, as the CDC has stated, there’s no significant risk to the United States.
In terms of the summit, I would tell you that we’re working closely with regional governments to stem the spread of the virus. We have no plans to change any elements of the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, as we believe all air travel continues to be safe here.
Q Do you know if all the leaders are still going to come? Or will some of them be forced to stay back because of the severity of the situation?
MR. SCHULTZ: Again, I’m responsible for a lot of things; the travel of African leaders is not one of them. So I’d encourage you to check in with them.
The death toll from the current Ebola outbreak is reported now to be well over 700.