WHO says Congo faces ‘very high’ risk from Ebola outbreak

A health worker is sprayed with chlorine after visiting the isolation ward at Bikoro hospital, which received a new suspected Ebola case, in Bikoro, Congo. (Reuters)
Updated 18 May 2018

WHO says Congo faces ‘very high’ risk from Ebola outbreak

GENEVA: Democratic Republic of Congo faces a “very high” public health risk from Ebola after the disease was confirmed in one patient in a major city, the World Health Organization said on Friday, raising its assessment from “high” previously.
The risk to countries in the region was now “high,” raised from “moderate,” but the global risk remained “low.”
The reassessment came after the first confirmed case in Mbandaka, a city of around 1.5 million. Previous reports of the disease had all been in remote areas where Ebola might spread more slowly.
“The confirmed case in Mbandaka, a large urban center located on major national and international river, road and domestic air routes increases the risk of spread within the Democratic Republic of the Congo and to neighboring countries,” the WHO said.
WHO Deputy Director-General for Emergency Preparedness and Response Peter Salama had told reporters on Thursday that the risk assessment was being reviewed.
“We’re certainly not trying to cause any panic in the national or international community,” he said.
“What we’re saying though is that urban Ebola is very different phenomenon to rural Ebola because we know that people in urban areas can have far more contacts so that means that urban Ebola can result in an exponential increase in cases in a way that rural Ebola struggles to do.”
Later on Friday, the WHO will convene an Emergency Committee of experts to advise on the international response to the outbreak, and decide whether it constitutes a “public health emergency of international concern.”
The nightmare scenario is an outbreak in Kinshasa, a crowded city where millions live in unsanitary slums not connected to a sewer system.
The WHO statement said there had been 21 suspected, 20 probable and 3 confirmed cases of Ebola between April 4 and May 15, a total of 44 cases, including 15 deaths.
Mbandaka had three suspected cases in addition to the confirmed case.
The WHO is sending 7,540 doses of an experimental vaccine to try to stop the outbreak in its tracks, and 4,300 doses have already arrived in Kinshasa. It will be used to protect healthworkers and “rings” of contacts around each case.
The vaccine supplies will be enough to vaccinate 50 rings of 150 people, the WHO said.
As of 15 May, 527 contacts had been identified and were being followed up and monitored, it said.


French police target extremist networks after teacher’s beheading

Updated 50 min 3 sec ago

French police target extremist networks after teacher’s beheading

  • President Emmanuel Macron: Extremists should not be allowed sleep soundly in our country
  • French teachers have long complained of tensions around religion and identity spilling over into the classroom

PARIS: French police on Monday launched a series of raids targeting extremist networks three days after the beheading of a history teacher who had shown his pupils a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad.

The operation came a day after tens of thousands of people took part in rallies countrywide to honor history teacher Samuel Paty and defend freedom of expression.

Minister of the Interior Gerald Darmanin said “dozens” of individuals were being probed for suspected radicalization.

While they were “not necessarily linked” to Paty’s killing, the government aimed to send a message that there would be “not a minute’s respite for enemies of the Republic,” he added.

Darmanin said the government would also tighten the noose on NGOs with suspected links to extremist networks.

“Fear is about to change sides,” President Emmanuel Macron told a meeting of key ministers Sunday to discuss a response to the attack.

“Extremists should not be allowed sleep soundly in our country,” he said.

Paty, 47, was attacked on his way home from the junior high school where he taught in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, 40 kilometers (25 miles) northwest of Paris.

A photo of the teacher and a message confessing to his murder was found on the mobile phone of his killer, an 18-year-old Chechen man Abdullakh Anzorov, who was shot dead by police.

The grisly killing has drawn parallels with the 2015 massacre at Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine, where 12 people, including cartoonists, were gunned down for publishing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

Paty had shown his civics class one of the controversial cartoons.

According to his school, Paty had given Muslim children the option to leave the classroom before he showed the cartoon in a lesson on free speech, saying he did not want their feelings hurt.

The lesson sparked a furor nonetheless and Paty and his school received threats.

Eleven people are being held over his murder, including a known radical and the father of one of Paty’s pupils, who had launched an online campaign against the teacher.

Darmanin accused the two men of having issued a “fatwa” against Paty, using the term for an edict that was famously used to describe the 1989 death sentence handed down against writer Salman Rushdie by Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini.

Anzorov’s family arrived in France from the predominantly Muslim Russian republic of Chechnya when he was six.

Locals in the Normandy town of Evreux where he lived described him as a loner who had become increasingly religious in recent years.

Police are trying to establish whether he acted alone.

Four members of his family are being held for questioning.

In scenes reminiscent of the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attack, when over a million people marched through Paris to defend press freedom, people again gathered at the central Place de la Republique on Sunday to express their horror over Paty’s death.

Some in the crowd chanted “I am Samuel,” echoing the 2015 “I am Charlie” rallying call for free speech.

French teachers have long complained of tensions around religion and identity spilling over into the classroom.

The government has vowed to step up security at schools when pupils return after half-term.

Far-right National Rally leader Marine Le Pen, who laid a wreath outside Paty’s school on Monday, called for “wartime legislation” to combat the terror threat.

Le Pen, who has announced she will make a third bid for the French presidency in 2022, called for an “immediate” moratorium on immigration and for all foreigners on terror watchlists to be deported.

Paty’s beheading was the second knife attack since a trial started last month over the Charlie Hebdo killings.

The magazine republished the cartoons in the run-up to the trial, and last month a young Pakistani man wounded two people with a meat cleaver outside the publication’s old office.