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Rwanda shuts border with DR Congo over Ebola

Thursday August 1 2019

Ebola vaccine

A man receives a vaccine against Ebola from a nurse outside the Afia Himbi Health Centre in Goma, DR Congo on July 15, 2019. The first recorded case of the disease was reported in the region's urban hub. PHOTO | PAMELA TULIZO | AFP 

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By AFP
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Rwanda has closed its border with Democratic Republic of Congo, a week after it had announced it would not do so, following confirmation of a third case of Ebola in the nearby city of Goma.

A government official told The EastAfrican that the Ministry of Health would give more details on the border closure but confirmed that the move was due to fears of the spread of the deadly virus.

The Congolese presidency in a statement Thursday said Rwanda's stance was a "unilateral decision" that affected citizens from both countries who had to cross the border as part of their daily life.

Goma, a city of two million people and a major transport hub, shares the border with the Rwandan city of Gisenyi, which has a population of more than 85,000.

Cross-frontier links are intense. Many people have jobs on the other side of the border while others have homes or put their children in schools in the neighbouring city.

"On the basis of a unilateral decision by the Rwandan authorities, Rwandan citizens cannot go to Goma and Congolese cannot leave Gisenyi but are prevented from going home," the statement said.

"This decision harms a number of Congolese and expatriates who live in Gisenyi but work in Goma."

SURVEILLANCE

On Thursday morning, Immigration officials at Gisenyi are said to have only allowed Congolese who wanted to cross the border back home.

Previously, Health minister Diane Gashumba had assured residents that the border would not be closed, although she cautioned against unnecessary border crossings.

No Ebola case has been reported in Rwanda, but the country has heightened its surveillance and carried out countywide sensitisation campaigns.

The announcement to close the border came just hours after a third case of Ebola was recorded in Goma, widening the scope of the epidemic on its first anniversary.

Since August 1, 2018, 1,803 lives have been lost in the second worst outbreak of Ebola on record, according to figures released Wednesday.

Two of the three cases in Goma have died, sparking a race to find people who have had contact with these patients.

Health experts fear outbreaks of contagious diseases in major cities.

In an urban setting, density of population, anonymity and high mobility make it far harder to isolate patients and trace contacts compared to the countryside.

-Additional reporting by The EastAfrican.