Ebola virus fugitives held at blockade

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The Independent Online

of Reuters

Kinshasa - Zaire called an emergency meeting of senior ministers yesterday on the plight of fugitives from the Ebola virus, which has killed 87 of the 101 people so far infected.

The Kinshasa governor Bernadin Mungul Diaka said fugitives from Kikwit, the town at the heart of the outbreak, were trapped in no man's land by quarantine road-blocks on the road to the capital. "We are calling an emergency meeting with the foreign trade minister, the interior minister and the defence minister to resolve the problem."

Meanwhile, a man suspected of carrying the virus was detained at Toronto's international airport yesterday and placed under quarantine, the Immigration Department said. The man, who was arriving from Zaire, was taken to either a hospital or other medical facility in Toronto where he will be quarantined for 21 days, an Immigration Department spokesman said. It was not immediately known why officials suspect the man was carrying the virus.

The virus, for which there is no vaccine or cure, is spread through contact with blood or bodily fluids and kills by causing uncontrollable bleeding.

Zaire's president, Mobutu Sese Seko, visiting the capital for the first time in nine months, expressed sympathy with the plight of the fugitives. "Quarantine is not a synonym for prison," he said, but he added he had no intention of visiting Kikwit. "I wanted to go, but my doctors wouldn't let me," he claimed.

The authorities in Kinshasa are determined to keep the virus out of the city of 5 million people. Fugitives from Kikwit are being stopped at a road-block 80 miles from the capital.

Governor Mungul said he had no precise figures on the size of the exodus. "There is still a flow of trucks and people arriving from Kikwit. It's so bad, I've asked the World Health Organisation [WHO] representative to help us."

The ambassadors of Belgium, France and the US left yesterday for Kikwit with Zaire's health minister. Diplomats said they would meet international experts tackling the outbreak.

There have been no Ebola cases reported so far in the capital, despite a brief scare after a nurse from Kikwit broke quarantine. Officials located her on Tuesday. A riverboat captain quarantined in Kinshasa has been declared free of the virus.

Health officials said five of the confirmed Ebola victims had survived the illness. "We're expecting more cases in the coming weeks since there are surely people who were contaminated, who are in the incubation period and who will obviously develop the illness," a WHO spokesman said.