Health Minister Eteni Longondo confirmed four Ebola deaths in Mbandaka
It is more than 620 miles from North Kivu where disease has raged since 2018
First time Equateur Province has been hit by an epidemic of Ebola for two years
Congo simultaneously faces threat of COVID-19 – mainly in its capital Kinshasa
New Ebola epidemic outbreak declared in DR Congo
A new Ebola epidemic has been declared in the Democratic Republic of Congo, more than 620 miles away from the ongoing outbreak in the country’s east.
Health Minister Eteni Longondo said four people who died in Mbandaka had tested positive at the national biomedical laboratory in the capital Kinshasa.
‘We have a new Ebola epidemic in Mbandaka,’ Longondo told reporters. ‘We are going to very quickly send them the vaccine and medicine.’
The outbreak was confirmed by World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who tweeted: ‘This outbreak is a reminder that #COVID19 is not the only health threat people face.’
Tedros said the WHO already had staff in Mbandaka who were offering their support to the Congolese authorities.
The capital of Equateur Province, Mbandaka is a transport hub on the Congo River with a population of more than a million.
The province was previously hit by an Ebola outbreak between May and July 2018, in which 33 people died and 21 recovered from the disease.
‘This is a province that has already experienced the disease. They know how to respond. They started the response at the local level yesterday (Sunday),’ Longondo said.
Congo has been struggling to put an end to a nearly two-year-old Ebola outbreak near its eastern borders with Rwanda and Uganda, which has killed more than 2,200 people, the world’s second-deadliest outbreak of the disease on record.
For it to be officially ended, there must be no new cases of the disease reported for 42 days, which is double the incubation period.
It was just days away from ending the epidemic in April, its tenth since the virus was discovered in 1976, when a new chain of infection was confirmed in the east.
However, no new cases have been detected there in over 30 days.
Two experimental vaccines have been administered to more than 300,000 across the country in a bid to eradicate Ebola.
But efforts to wipe it out have been hindered by violent civil war and assaults on health workers in volatile regions controlled by militia.
Meanwhile the country has the coronavirus pandemic to keep a handle on. More than 3,100 infections have been reported – 2,896 in the capital Kinshasa – with 72 fatalities, according to Monday’s figures.
Despite this the government has struggled to communicate the dangers posed by the disease, with many citizens refusing to believe it exists.
‘We are in an ascending period of the curve,’ Longondo said, adding that it was still too ‘risky’ to lift measures imposed on March 20 to stem the spread of COVID-19.
Under the measures, travel is banned between Kinshasa and the rest of the country.
No coronavirus cases have been reported in Equateur province. Mbandaka is 600 kilometres (370 miles) from Kinshasa, but the two cities are connected by the Congo river, with a trip down it taking about a week.
DR Congo’s coronavirus front man, virologist Jean-Jacques Muyembe, first identified Ebola in 1976 along with Belgian Peter Piot.
‘I have devoted all my life and all my career to fighting Ebola,’ Muyembe has said.
The country is also facing a measles outbreak which has killed more than 6,000 people since early last year, as well as recurring flare-ups of cholera and malaria.