World Health Organization says Ebola outbreak has spread to DR Congo city

12 health workers don protective clothing as they prepare to attend to suspected Ebola patients at Bikoro Hospital in Bikoro Congo

Congo's Ebola outbreak has spread to a crossroads city of more than 1 million people in a troubling turn that marks the first time the vast, impoverished country has encountered the lethal virus in an urban area.

The risk to countries in the region is now determined as "high", but the global risk remains "low".

"The confirmed case in Mbandaka, a large urban center located on major national and worldwide river, road and domestic air routes increases the risk of spread within the Democratic Republic of the Congo and to neighboring countries", the statement said. Fourteen cases have been confirmed with laboratory tests.

The WHO's International Health Regulations emergency committee will determine on Friday if the current outbreak constitutes a public heath event of international concern. A newly confirmed case in a densely populated part of the country will complicate attempts to control the outbreak, the statement said.

A government statement late on Thursday said the 11 new confirmed cases and one new related death were reported in the town of Bikoro in Equateur, where the Ebola outbreak was officially announced on May 8 by authorities.

The city of about one million people is a transport hub on the River Congo, prompting fears that the virus could now spread further, threatening the capital Kinshasa and surrounding countries.

"This is a concerning development, but we now have better tools than ever before to combat Ebola", said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO's director-general.

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The agency said it was deploying around 30 experts to Mbandaka "to conduct surveillance in the city". Vast, impoverished Democratic Republic of Congo has contained several past Ebola outbreaks but the spread of the hemorrhagic fever to an urban area poses a major challenge.

There was a serious outbreak of Ebola in Africa between 2014 and 2015, with the crisis mainly affecting Guinea, Libera and Sierra Leone.

Dr Kok said the Interior ministry had been asked to restrict the movement of people and screen those entering South Sudan.

The vaccine supplies would be enough to vaccinate 50 rings of 150 people, the World Health Organization said.

Notably, about 23 people have reportedly died and 42 people have contracted the virus since Epola outbreak began earlier in May. Humans can also be exposed to the virus, for example, by butchering infected animals.

WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said on Friday that Congo's Ministry of Health had provided updated figures: 45 cases overall since April 4, including 14 confirmed, 10 suspected and 21 probable.

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