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Cameroon Limits Sierra Leone Soccer Delegation

FILE - Sierra Leonean players huddle at their match against Niger at the national stadium, Freetown, June 2011.

Cameroon has restricted the number of Sierra Leonians arriving for the African Cup of Nations soccer qualifier to 40 people, including players, in response to the Ebola scare that has hit the country.

Even with medical staff present here at Mvogmbi, a neighborhood in Yaounde where Sierra Leone players are lodged for the qualifier against the Lions of Cameroon, the presence of foreign players is scaring hotel staff. Employees such as Claire Dama have even refused to attend to clients until the visiting team leaves, saying she fears for her life.

Ebola has ravaged thousands of lives and people in Cameroon have been expressing fears and stigmatizing Sierra Leonians already in the country.

The World Health Organization says nearly 3,900 people have died from the Ebola outbreak, mostly in West Africa. There are more than 8,000 confirmed cases.

Sports journalist, Fritz Bayamac says he is frightened and has decided not to go near the visitors.

"The Ebola virus is highly contagious and so I've decided not to go close to any Sierra Leone player or member of the delegation for interviews," he said, adding that he intends to watch the match from a distance.

Cameroon Minister of Health Andre Mama Fouda told VOA that restricting the delegation to 40 players was only one of several measures taken to keep the Ebola virus out of the country. He said the players from Sierra Leone will also be tested for Ebola throughout their stay.

"Disinfect hands. Restrict and control visits to members of the delegation, strictly forbidding visits in bedrooms," he said. "The Cameroonian medical team shall take the temperature of each member of the delegation morning and evening, [and] transport players and members of Sierra Leone delegation in specific vehicles."

Elias Hitot, a Cameroonian born Sierra Leone fan, says his team is being treated unfairly, and that he was refused access to meet and cheer up the players during their training session.

"By refusing to allow football supporters from Sierra Leone to travel to Cameroon, Cameroon is already giving an advantage to its team and that is not fair play," he said.

Cameroon's Minister of Communication and government spokesperson Issa Tchiroma Bakari told VOA that they were not in any way stigmatizing Sierra Leone, but simply helping to stop Ebola's spread. He calls on Cameroonians to be welcoming, but not to go close to the visitors.

"All protective measures taken during the stay of the Sierra Leone football delegation in Cameroon are not intended to stigmatize members of this delegation," he said. "The measures undertaken are intended to guarantee their health and at the same time prevent any unfortunate contamination to occur during their stay."

All efforts to get the reaction of members of the football delegation from Sierra Leone failed.

United Nations health experts say the only way to protect the rest of the world from Ebola is to stop it in West Africa.