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Judge says nurse who refused Ebola quarantine can now leave home

The judge said that Kaci Hickox is not infectious.

 Kaci Hickox
Kaci Hickox
Image: AP/Press Association Images

A US JUDGE has ruled that a nurse quarantined by her home state after treating Ebola patients in Africa could leave home and frequent public places, saying she was not infectious.

The decision from a district judge in the northeastern state of Maine is the latest twist in a bitter row over enforced quarantine of American medics returning from relief work in west Africa.

Temporary order

It reversed a temporary order that prevented her from visiting cinemas and shopping centers, and demanded she keep three feet away from others while Judge Charles LaVerdiere examined the case.

Kaci Hickox insists that she is perfectly healthy, and since returning to the US has fought efforts by authorities to keep her in quarantine for 21 days, the incubation period for the deadly virus that has killed nearly 5,000 people, most of them in west Africa.

People infected with Ebola are contagious if showing symptoms, like a fever, and Hickox has argued that since she was not showing any symptoms, there was no need to keep her under quarantine.

Bike ride

Ebola Nurse Quarantined Maine Source: AP/Press Association Images

Maine went to court to force her to stay at home in the town of Fort Kent. On Thursday, she went out for a bike ride with her boyfriend, tailed by TV cameras and the police.

“The state has not met its burden at this time to prove by clear and convincing evidence that limiting respondent’s movements to the degree requested is ‘necessary to protect other individuals,’” LaVerdiere wrote in the ruling.

He said Hickox must continue with direct active monitoring, coordinate her travel with public health authorities and notify them immediately if any symptom for the killer virus appears.

The judge also told Hickox to “demonstrate her full understanding of human nature and the real fear” that exists over the deadly virus.

“She should guide herself accordingly,” he wrote.

Ebola Nurse Quarantined Maine Source: AP/Press Association Images

US Ebola patients

So far the US has treated nine Ebola victims, with one of them — a man who contracted it in Liberia — dying from the virus. Apart from two nurses who had treated the Liberian patient, the rest of the Ebola victims became infected in Africa.

In a press conference reported by CNN, one of Hickox’s lawyers, Steve Hyman, called the ruling “an indication of thoughtfulness versus irrationality.”

Hickox had become “a prisoner because of misconceptions and a whole host of irrational arguments,” he said.

Deterrent for health workers?

Experts say quarantining medical professionals who have shown no symptoms of the disease is counter-productive and could deter other US workers from helping contain west Africa’s Ebola crisis.

The White House and public health officials have criticized measures taken by some US states that quarantine medics returning from treating Ebola-infected patients in west Africa.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie kept Hickox in an isolation tent for three days after she flew back from Sierra Leone, before letting her go on Monday after she tested negative for Ebola.

She was driven to Maine, which imposed its own quarantine, which would have normally ended on November 10.

“They will not allow me to leave my house and have any interaction with the public, even though I am completely healthy and symptom-free,” Hickox said Wednesday.

President Barack Obama said at the time that those who volunteer on the front lines in the battle against Ebola should be applauded.

“We need to call them what they are, which is American heroes,” Obama said.

- © AFP, 2014

Read: Further Ebola trial runs to be carried out to ensure health services are ready>

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