Ebola virus

Guangzhou clarifies size of African community amid fears over Ebola virus

Seeking to calm Ebola fears, official says rumours that half a million live in the city are wrong

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 November, 2014, 4:34am
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 November, 2014, 4:34am

A deputy mayor of Guangzhou has sought to allay fears over Ebola disease, saying yesterday that 16,000 African people live in the city, contrary to rumours there were nearly half a million.

A Guangzhou airport official also said the city was handing out free mobile phones to visitors from Ebola-hit countries so the authorities could keep in touch with them.

City border checkpoints recorded 430,000 arrivals and exits by nationals from African countries in the first nine months. But only 16,000 live in Guangzhou.

"There has been a misunderstanding. The count is about visits and exits, not the number of residents, let alone the number of stranded African people," deputy mayor Xie Xiaodan said.

He added that most of the residents were businesspeople, students or teachers.

More than 4,900 people have died in an Ebola disease outbreak in West Africa. The World Health Organisation estimates there have been 13,703 cases of the disease in the region. Most have occurred in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Barry Sultane, a leader of the Guinean community in Guangzhou and a businessman who has lived in the city for 10 years, said the need for clarification was understandable.

Most arrivals were people coming for trips of less than two weeks to buy goods, he said.

Sultane said intense television coverage about the virus had fanned fears of a local outbreak reminiscent of the 2003 epidemic of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or Sars. "But you must understand that not everybody from Africa is in contact with the virus and only three countries were affected," Sultane said.

Lin Songtian, director general of the Department of African Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said China had stepped up scrutiny of arrivals from countries affected by Ebola but visa policies remained unchanged.

Wu Huiming, from Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport, told Xinhua that the city began handing out free cellphones and medical kits to visitors from Ebola-affected countries on Monday, with 98 phones handed out by Thursday.

Recipients had to keep their phones on for 21 days so medical workers could track them.

"People who fail to do so will be put on our black list upon their next trip to China," Wu said.

China had sent a team to build a 100-bed treatment centre in Liberia, the country worst hit by the virus, Lin said. It will be ready within 30 days. The centre is part of China's fourth round of emergency assistance, which now totals 500 million yuan (HK$630 million).

Beijing has also donated a mobile laboratory to Sierra Leone and sent a 59-member team from the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention to test blood samples, bringing the total presence of Chinese medical staff in Africa to nearly 200.

Another 480 staff from the army have undergone training ahead of their deployment to Liberia. The first 160 staff are scheduled to leave in two weeks.