New Ebola Strain in Congo Spark Fears of Outbreak Across Africa; More Flight Cancellations Hamper Aid

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Health workers take blood samples for Ebola virus testing at a screening tent in the local government hospital in Kenema
Health workers take blood samples for Ebola virus testing at a screening tent in the local government hospital in Kenema, Sierra Leone, June 30, 2014. Reuters

The Democratic Republic of Congo has recently become the fifth country with confirmed cases of Ebola. The new cases have sparked fears of the virus spreading across Africa. According to reports, the virus found in Central Africa is believed to be a new strain of Ebola.

The World Health Organisation has sent protective gear for health workers to Congo, following news of the new outbreak. The Ebola virus was found in two out of eight people tested for signs of infection.

WHO spokesperson Tarik Jasarevic told media that Congo's ministry of health has declared an outbreak and the health agency has responded to its call for help.

On Aug 24, Congo announced that two patients had tested positive for Ebola in its northern Equateur province. However, the country's health minister, Felix Kabange Numbi, had denied the virus was linked to the outbreak raging in West Africa.

Reports said officials believe the virus has claimed the lives of 13 people in Congo, including five medical workers.

Ebola has spread throughout Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Guinea and caused 1,427 deaths and 2,615 cases since March 2014. Officials have said the Ebola virus that plagues Congo is not linked with the epidemic in West Africa.

Officials reported that one of the patients in Congo was infected with the Sudanese strain of the virus, while the other patient tested positive for a combination of the Sudanese and Zaire strains, which was deemed the most dangerous.

The Ebola outbreak has prompted more flight cancellations and border closures as alarm increases over the further spread of the virus in other countries. Tom Frieden, the director of U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was supposed to be in West Africa to assess the situation. However, his flight was cancelled due to Brussel Airlines decision to stop flying to the region.

Senegal had reportedly refused to allow the airline to land in its capital, Dakar, to change staff and crew. The move is only one of the increasing number of countries and airlines that has decided to ban travel in places where Ebola struck.

Asky Airlines and Kenya Airlines have stopped flying to Ebola-affected areas. Emirates, British Airways and Korean have halted operations in the continent. Air France is under pressure as its crew and union workers have demanded a ban on its flights to Guinea and Sierra Leone, reports said. 

Health officials around the world have reacted to Ebola fears by increasing the number of flight cancellations. Residents in affected countries are afraid that they will be trapped within their own borders because of the cancellations.

WHO has recently warned that these measures may only prove to be an obstacle in dealing with the virus. The United Nations has reiterated the need to open borders so medical supplies and personnel can be moved easily. 

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