Ebola patients abscond from treatment center in Congo

31 December, 2018, 22:14 | Author: Emmett Rice
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 ELECTIONS Voting in Congo has been suspended due to an ongoing Ebola outbreak and violence

On Thursday, Congo's Health Ministry said 24 patients fled an Ebola treatment center in Beni when it came under attack by people protesting the cancellation of voting in the eastern city in Sunday's presidential election.

Lawmaker Muhindo Nzangi Butondo, a coordinator for opposition presidential candidate Martin Fayulu, called for street protests in Beni, Butembo and nearby Goma on Thursday, describing the CENI's actions as an attack on the Nande ethnic group.

Demonstrations erupted a day after the Democratic Republic of Congo's national election commission announced that Sunday's nationwide vote would be postponed in several troubled areas until March.

While the health ministry said most had tested negative for the virus and 11 people had already returned, the vandalism was the latest setback in efforts to contain the second deadliest Ebola outbreak in history.

Opposition candidates call the delay a ploy to hurt their chances at the polls.

However, the vote will continue to take place in the rest of the country as scheduled, and the next president will be sworn in on January 18, it said.

The country's election commission then moved the date from December 23 to December 30 after a fire destroyed voting equipment.

As a result, the capital could face daunting 20-hour queues to vote, based on the average time it takes to use the voting machines, said Sylvain Lumu, of SYMOCEL, a domestic election observation mission.

But health authorities had repeatedly said the outbreak would not prevent the vote from going ahead, and locals say it is being used as a pretext to disenfranchise them.

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The delegation's visit to DR Congo comes after eight African states - Angola, a key alley of Mr Kabila - jointly expressed "strong concern over acts of violence" during the campaign and called for "peaceful, free, democratic and transparent" elections.

Congo's about 40 million registered voters will decide the fate of a vast country that is rich in the mineral wealth central to smartphones and electric cars but desperately poor in infrastructure and basic services.

Sunday's elections will turn the page on the troubled era of President Joseph Kabila, in power for almost 18 years.

No explanation has been offered as to whether or how the delayed vote will affect the official outcome, and legal experts say the postponement is unconstitutional.

Public support for Kabila's preferred successor, Shadary, has remained flat in recent weeks even as the popularity of Fayulu, the joint opposition candidate, has soared.

"We participated in campaigning and there were no Ebola infections", Mutsuva added.

Until this week, the Ebola outbreak declared on August 1 had been a challenge but not a barrier to the election. And in a separate report detailing the latest outbreak trends, the World Health Organization said cases continue across a geographically dispersed area, and although Ebola infection numbers continue to decline in Beni, the outbreak is intensifying in Butembo and Katwa, with new clusters popping up elsewhere.

It is believed that between people, Ebola is spread only by direct contact with the blood or other body fluids of a person who has developed symptoms of the disease, including saliva and sweat.

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