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China Beefs Up Ebola Screening at Trade Expo

A man gets his temperature check before entering the Canton Fair, China’s largest trade show, in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, Oct. 23, 2014.
A man gets his temperature check before entering the Canton Fair, China’s largest trade show, in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, Oct. 23, 2014.

China is stepping up efforts to detect possible cases of Ebola in the southern province of Guangdong, which has the country’s largest African population and where health officials earlier this week announced monitoring of some 43 suspected cases of infection. All have tested negative.

At the Canton Fair in Guangzhou, China’s largest trade exhibition, health officials are monitoring the temperature of all participants. The annual fair typically brings a rise in travelers from Africa, but participants say merchants and buyers from West Africa have dropped dramatically this year.

China has yet to report a confirmed case of Ebola. But Guangdong is being watched closely, given its close contacts with the continent. According to health authorities in Guangzhou, the city and capital of Guangdong has designated seven hospitals for treating Ebola cases.

Extra focus on West African participants?

Earlier this week, Chinese media reports said participants from West African nations were being singled out for temperature checks. Photos on the state-run Xinhua News Agency’s website show a wide range of participants being tested by health personnel in facemasks and full medical suits.

Some fair visitors also tell VOA that individuals from Ebola-hit countries are being pulled aside for extra scrutiny. Regardless of whether they have a fever, these individuals are being asked to respond to a questionnaire and provide their full contact information.

According to a statement posted on the Canton Fair’s website, anyone who has been to an Ebola-hit country is required to monitor his or her temperature for 21 days and cooperate with disease control officials.

Of the more than 8,000 individuals who have traveled to Guangdong from Ebola-affected areas since late August, more than 5,400 are no longer under medical supervision, Guangdong officials said.

The officials did not provide any information about the 43 suspected cases or what "medical supervision" procedures involve. Repeated requests for more information by VOA in Beijing went unanswered.

WHO weighs in

Dr. Bernhard Schwartlander, the World Health Organization representative in China, said the global body was not aware of the suspected cases’ specifics.

Schwartlander, writing in response to questions from VOA, said putting individuals under medical supervision does not necessarily mean they are suspected of having Ebola, because its symptoms are the same as those of other diseases.

"We are aware that Guangdong province has increased border inspections, screening and quarantine measures for travelers with high fevers from Ebola-affected areas," Schwartlander said. "These actions are consistent with the current WHO recommendation that states should be prepared to detect, investigate and manage Ebola cases."

As recent cases in the United States and Spain have shown, no country is immune from the possibility of imported cases, Schwartlander said.

"China has good systems and capacity in place to respond quickly should any case or possible case of Ebola be detected here," he said.