The World Health Organisation is launching a US$100 million response plan to combat an "unprecedented" outbreak of Ebola in West Africa, director general Margaret Chan Fung Fu-chun said yesterday.
Chan will meet in Conakry, Guinea today with the presidents of affected West African nations to take the response against the disease to "a new level". The WHO had identified the need for "several hundred more personnel" to be deployed in affected countries, Chan said in an appeal to donor countries.
Meanwhile, inquiries by multinational firms and non-government organisations about the outbreak increased fourfold in the past month, an emergency service provider said. Some concerned evacuating staff.
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About 20,000 Chinese people - including workers from at least two Hong Kong-based companies and two doctors from the city - are in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. The number of confirmed Ebola cases in the three countries yesterday hit 1,323, including 729 deaths.
Sierra Leone yesterday declared a state of emergency over the crisis, quarantining Ebola-hit areas, banning all non-Ebola-related public meetings and deploying security forces to protect medical workers.
There have so far been no report of any Chinese national being infected, but Chinese embassies in the three countries said they had received several dozen inquiries about Ebola.
International SOS, a company which provides emergency medical and travel security services, said it had received hundreds of assistance requests concerning Ebola, with the number surging fourfold in the past month.
"In the past 24 hours, Ebola has grown to be a real concern throughout the world," said the organisation's medical director in Asia, Dr Greg Jakubowski.
But so far none had conducted any emergency evacuation, as removing staff was difficult, Jakubowski said from Singapore. Departing staff would need screening, approval to leave and would likely have to enter quarantine upon arriving home.
A few Hong Kong companies had sought advice on whether it was safe for their staff to make a business trip to West Africa, said Jakubowski, who advised them to reconsider unless the trip was absolutely necessary.
Chinese embassies in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone said most of the Chinese living in the countries were in the timber, textile or import and export trades.
In Sierra Leone, an unnamed embassy staff member said that at least two Hong Kong companies were known to be operating in the country. One was a shipping firm and the other was involved in mineral exploration.
The Red Cross said two Hong Kong health care professionals - a clinical psychologist and a doctor in public health - were in West Africa to help with prevention and community education.
The Hong Kong Immigration Department said no Hongkongers had made a request for assistance. Health minister Dr Ko Wing-man stressed that Hong Kong was on high alert over the outbreak and would arrange follow-up consultations for local personnel involved in relief work.
Ebola can kill within days. It causes severe fever and muscle pain, vomiting, diarrhoea and, in some cases, organ failure and unstoppable bleeding. Between 60 and 90 per cent of sufferers die.
Additional reporting by Danny Lee, Agence France-Presse
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