‘I have Ebola! You’re all screwed!’: Passenger causes panic on plane with a joke gone bad

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By The Mirror

A man who screamed “I have Ebola! You are all screwed!” on a flight was confronted by men wearing hazardous waste suits and oxygen masks when the plane landed.

The American – who had coughed and sneezed his way through a four-hour flight between Philadelphia and the Dominican Republic – panicked 200 passengers with his claim to have the deadly disease.

But what US Airways flight staff believe was a sick joke quickly turned into something far from funny as four officers kitted out in the the quarantine outfits boarded the plane at Punta Cana Airport.

A stewardess is heard to say to people aboard the flight: “I need your attention – this is going to look worse than it is.”

Seconds later, the men in overalls board the Boeing 777 as passengers sitting near the man cover their faces.

The stewardess goes on to say that “after 30 years in the business” she is sure “this man is an idiot”.

The unnamed 54-year-old passenger was escorted from the aircraft and was heard to protest: “I ain’t from Africa. S***.”

The man who sparked the panic did not have Ebola, according to officials.

Walter Zemialkowski, director of terminals and maintenance at the airport, said the passenger is believed to have the flu.

Paola Rainieri, a communications executive at Grupo Punta Cana which owns the airport, described the comment as a “joke of poor taste”.

She said: “We don’t know why he did it, but he thought it would be a cute joke that would not be so serious. Thankfully it was only a scare.”

The US is taking the threat of Ebola seriously following the death of Thomas Eric Duncan – the first man to be diagnosed with the virus outside of West Africa, in Dallas, Texas.

American medical authorities have kept those who came into contact with Mr Duncan in isolation, while the Texas Sheriff’s deputy was rushed to hospital this week amid fears of infection.

It comes after a panicked Government U-turn means that people entering the UK from countries affected by Ebola will be screened for the deadly virus.

After days of dithering, ministers finally announced that passengers landing at Heathrow and Gatwick or arriving by Eurostar from areas hit by the killer bug will face “enhanced screenings”.

But just hours earlier, Defence Minister Michael Fallon insisted that the measures were not needed.

Yet faced with growing anger at the lack of action when Britons could be at risk, No10 later rushed out plans to screen anyone travelling from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

These passengers will now have to give details of their travel history, the people they have been in contact with and any onward travel plans they might have.

And they may have to undergo a health test carried out by medical staff. Passengers will also be given advice on what to do should they develop symptoms later.

There are more than 40 flights a day to the UK from West Africa, but no direct ones from the countries at the centre of the epidemic, which has killed around 3,400 people so far this year.

No10 said that the new measures were advised by the Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies.

A spokesman said: “Enhanced screening arrangements at the UK’s main ports of entry for people travelling from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea will offer an additional level of protection to the UK.

“These measures will help to improve our ability to detect and isolate Ebola cases. But, given the nature of this disease, no system could offer 100% protection from non-symptomatic cases.”

The spokesman went on to say that although the risk to the public in Britain was “very low” the Government was drawing up contingency plans for a possible major outbreak.

Dame Sally said: “We remain alert and prepared, should an Ebola case be identified here. We have well-tested processes in place.”

Pressure mounted on David Cameron to act after the United States said it would be introducing screening at five major airports – New York’s JFK International, Newark Liberty in New Jersey, Washington Dulles, Chicago O’Hare and Hartsfield-Jackson, Atlanta.

Passengers there must take temperature tests and answer a health questionnaire. These measures are not mandatory as part of the UK screenings.

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