Obama names 'Ebola czar'

Jérôme Cartillier
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A man dressed in a protective suit and mask holds a poster demanding a halt to all flights from West Africa, as he protests outside the White House in Washington, DC on October 16, 2014

A man dressed in a protective suit and mask holds a poster demanding a halt to all flights from West Africa, as he protests outside the White House in Washington, DC on October 16, 2014 (AFP Photo/Mladen Antonov)

Washington (AFP) - President Barack Obama on Friday named attorney Ron Klain to coordinate the US response to the Ebola outbreak, amid growing anxiety over its spread beyond West Africa.

The new "Ebola czar," as he was described widely in US media, will report directly to Obama's Homeland Security Advisor Lisa Monaco and National Security Advisor Susan Rice.

The longtime Democratic aide is to begin his job soon, ensuring that "efforts to protect the American people by detecting, isolating and treating Ebola patients in this country are properly integrated but don't distract from the aggressive commitment to stopping Ebola at the source in West Africa," the White House said.

Klain is a former senior aide to Obama, and served as chief of staff to both Vice President Joe Biden and former vice president Al Gore.

He currently heads Case Holdings -- a holding company founded by former AOL chief executive Steve Case -- and is general counsel at technology-oriented venture capital firm Revolution LLC.

Several Republicans swiftly savaged Obama's appointment, saying he installed a political crony with no medical experience to tackle a potential health emergency.

"This appointment is both shocking and frankly tone deaf to what the American people are concerned about," said congressman Tim Murphy, who chaired a House hearing Thursday on the fumbled US response to the crisis.

"Installing yet another political appointee who has no medical background or infectious disease control experience will do little to reassure Americans who are increasingly losing confidence with the administration's Ebola strategy."

Asked by reporters why the White House chose someone without medical experience for the job, spokesman Josh Earnest said: "What we were looking for is not an Ebola expert but rather an implementation expert."

- US cases -

A Liberian man died from Ebola in Texas on October 8 and two American nurses who treated him have tested positive for the virus that has already killed more than 4,500 people in hard-hit Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The infection of the US nurses has embarrassed American health authorities, who faced questions about how the disease -- which kills around 70 percent of those it infects in West Africa -- had spread.

The first Ebola-stricken nurse, Nina Pham, arrived late Thursday at a specialized US government hospital in Maryland, and was in "fair" condition on Friday.

"She is very fatigued," said Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told reporters.

"This virus knocks you out."

- Traveler concerns -

Meanwhile, US health authorities expanded the number of airline passengers they wanted to speak with after another Ebola-infected nurse, Amber Vinson, flew from Texas to Ohio and back just days before being diagnosed with Ebola.

The CDC said it was reaching out to those who flew on Vinson's outgoing flight on October 10 from Dallas to Cleveland, as well as her return trip.

The expanded outreach was "based on additional information obtained during interviews of close contacts" of the nurse, the CDC said in a statement, but gave no further details.

Vinson reported no symptoms and a low-grade fever, and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cleared her to fly from Ohio to Texas on October 13.

Now, as many as 750 passengers who rode the same plane on five different trips are being sought, Frontier Airlines said, stressing that officials believe the risk of Ebola transmission was quite low.

As fear of Ebola spread across the United States, the Pentagon closed off a parking lot and one entrance Friday after a woman who had returned from Africa recently vomited outside the building.

The area was closed off "out of an abundance of caution," the Defense Department said in a statement.

And a Texas health care worker who handled samples from the Liberian Ebola victim voluntarily quarantined herself aboard a cruise ship in the Caribbean.

She is considered at "very low risk" of infection, and Carnival Cruise Lines said the ship was headed back to Galveston, Texas where it would dock on Sunday.