Rwanda has closed its border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where a deadly Ebola outbreak that started a year ago has killed more than 1,803 people.
Congo’s presidency on Thursday said that Rwandan authorities had closed the border between Goma and its nearest town of Gisenyi for all people other than Congolese citizens leaving Rwanda.
Goma had its second case of Ebola fever confirmed this week.
The closure came after a second death linked to the Ebola virus was confirmed on Wednesday in the densely populated Congolese city of Goma, which is on the porous border with Rwanda.
The World Health Organisation (WHO), which declared the DRC outbreak a global health emergency in July, has recommended against travel or trade restrictions.
It has also said the risk of regional spread was “very high”.
The DRC presidency’s office said it regretted what it described as a unilateral decision by the Rwandan authorities to restrict movement at the border, “which runs counter to the advice of the WHO”.
Earlier on Thursday, a DRC official said the one-year-old daughter of the man who died on Wednesday was at a treatment centre after showing signs of the disease.
He had spent several days at home with his family while showing symptoms.
If this suspected case is confirmed, it could be the first transmission of Ebola in this outbreak inside Goma, a city of more than two million people.
Goma is a major transport hub that 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.
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.
The painstaking work of finding, tracking and vaccinating people, who had contact with the man who died on Wednesday and the contacts of those contacts has begun.
The escalating crisis has led to a row within the DRC’s health ministry, which is co-ordinating national efforts to contain the spread of the virus.
Last week the DRC’s health minister, Oly Ilunga Kalenga, resigned in protest of the country’s handling of the Ebola outbreak.
He said international agencies were pressuring his government to allow the testing of a new vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson.
The row over the vaccine trials began after Ilunga reportedly banned clinical trials of the new vaccine in DRC.
Ebola vaccines are difficult to develop because they have to be tested during outbreaks.
In the previous outbreak in West Africa, one vaccine, produced by Merck, was successfully trialled in Guinea.
The success of that trial meant preventive Merck vaccines could be given to citizens in the DRC and potentially contains the outbreak.
Ilunga has argued trialling vaccines in Ebola-affected regions could erode public trust in the government.
Last week Saudi Arabia stopped issuing visas to people from DRC while citing the Ebola outbreak, shortly before the annual Hajj pilgrimage there this month.
Rwandan State Minister for Foreign Affairs Ministry, Olivier Nduhungirehe, said: “Yes it has been closed, but for details you can call immigration and ministry of health because it is about Ebola.” (Reuters/NAN)