Canada has suspended visa applications for residents and nationals of countries with "widespread transmission" of the Ebola virus, becoming the second nation after Australia to introduce such a measure. 

The countries most severely hit by the worst Ebola outbreak ever are Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. Canada has not yet had a case of the disease. 

The similar move by Australia was slammed on Wednesday by Dr Margaret Chan, the World Health Organisation's director general, who said closing borders won't stop spread of the Ebola virus.

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Canadians, including healthcare workers, in West Africa will be permitted to travel back to Canada, the government said.

Kevin Menard, a spokesman for Canada's immigration ministry, said the government has "instituted a pause" in issuing visas for foreigners from risky countries, but noted "there was room for discretion if we can be assured that someone is not infected with the virus," according to the Associated Press news agency.

Nancy Caron, a spokesman for Citizenship and Immigration Canada, said that "a number of African countries have imposed stricter travel bans as have several other countries around the world. Other countries such as the United States have started to place restrictions on travelers from countries with Ebola outbreaks".

The government also noted that all travelers, including Canadian citizens, will continue to be screened at ports of entry in Canada and will be subject to appropriate health screening.

Menard said the move is similar to, but a bit less restrictive than, the Australian measure.

Stephane Dujarric, a spokesman for the UN secretary-general, said the body welcomed Canada's support in fighting the Ebola outbreak but advocated "against isolating the three most impacted countries and stigmatising its citizens".

'Disheartening move'

David Fidler, an international law professor at Indiana University, said the measures by Canada and Australia mean are violations of International Health Regulations, a 2005 World Health Organisation treaty to which both signed up. 

The treaty "just seems to be disintegrating in this Ebola panic," Fidler said.

"And to have countries like Australia and Canada be in the forefront of this is even more disheartening,'' he said, because they had been supportive of the international treaty meant to prevent panic during such a health crisis.

Libby Davies, a member of the Canadian opposition party New Democrat, also criticised the visa ban, citing criticism by the World Health Organisation and the World Bank and questioning the announcement's timing.

"Sending this announcement on a Friday afternoon only worsens concerns that this policy is a public relations exercise, and irresponsibly ignorant of what health experts have advised," she said.

The International Health Regulations are designed to help the world fight infectious disease outbreaks that have the potential for international spread. They were revised and strengthened in the wake of the 2003 SARS outbreak.

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Source: Agencies