China has broken its silence on suspected cases of Ebola in the country, reporting that 43 individuals in the southern province of Guangdong recently tested negative for the virus.
Chinese media reported the country is stepping up measures to prevent the deadly virus from reaching its shores.
A short report released late Tuesday night from Xinhua had few details, but the numbers it divulged were surprising.
According to Xinhua, some 8,672 individuals have traveled to Guangdong from Ebola-hit areas in West Africa since late August. And of that number, more than 5,437 have been released from medical supervision.
The report gave no details about the rest of the travelers. It also did not clearly say what it meant by medical supervision or specify which countries the travelers were from.
An official at the Liberian Embassy said that Chinese authorities have not informed them of any suspected cases. Officials at the Sierra Leone Embassy were unavailable for comment.
The Canton Fair, China’s largest trade exhibition, opened last week in Guangzhou and runs through early November.
Chinese media reports said screening at the fair has been stepped up with temperature-testing facilities.
Reports also said that those attending the fair from Ebola-hit areas in West Africa have been asked to stay in designated hotels while their temperatures are being monitored.
At major international airports in China, special screening lines for travelers from West Africa have also been set up.
African studies professor
Adams Bodomo, a professor of African Studies at the University of Vienna, said when he arrived recently in Beijing he had to go through the special line because he carries a Ghana passport.
Bodomo later traveled to Guangzhou from Hong Kong by train.
At Guangzhou East Station, Bodomo said there was also a special line set up for individuals carrying West African passports.
“Because Guangzhou has the largest community of Africans in the country, in China, the thinking is that if the virus is to come into the country at all, it will most likely be through Guangzhou,” he said.
Bodomo said at that time he did not hear about any individuals being quarantined, but everyone was on edge even in late August and early September.
“It seems a lot of people are scared and there is a lot of scaremongering in the community,” Bodomo said.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said that individuals from affected countries who are screened for symptoms and show no signs of the virus are allowed to travel in China without restrictions.
She referred further questions to Chinese health authorities.
However, officials did not respond to a request for more information on the situation in Guangzhou and how suspected travelers were being handled.
China is not alone in its concerns about the spread of the deadly virus.
There is a growing global debate about the need for travel bans.
Some U.S. lawmakers said a travel ban would be useful, but U.S. President Barack Obama has so far sided with health officials who are opposed to a travel ban.
Against closing borders
On Wednesday, however, the United States will begin funneling all flights from Ebola-hit areas in West Africa through five major airports.
Elhadj As Sy, secretary general of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, expressed optimism while speaking at a press conference in Beijing that the outbreak could be brought under control in four to six months.
Sy also said closing borders will not stop the spread of the virus.
"So it (Ebola) creates a lot of fear and extreme panic that sometimes leads to very irrational type of behaviors and measures, like closing borders, cancelling flights, isolating countries, etc.," Sy said.
"Those are not solutions. The only solution is how can we join our efforts to contain those kinds of viruses and epidemics at their epicenter," he added.
China said it is reaching out to the international community to offer increased support and collaboration. Beijing has pledged some $35 million in medical aid to the worst affected countries.
Since the outbreak began China has sent nearly 200 medical personnel to West African countries to help fight the spread of the virus.