Fears of a global Ebola outbreak spread yesterday as French officials sealed off a building with 60 people inside, an Australian nurse was tested for the disease and airplane cleaners went on strike in New York.
In France, police imposed a lock-down on a social services centre in a town near Paris after four people who arrived from Guinea this month fell ill with headaches and fever.
Officials in Cergy Pontoise, northwest of the capital, later said that the fears that the four were suffering from Ebola were a false alarm and the nearly 60 others inside were allowed to leave.
But the drastic reaction of the authorities in France, which has not reported any cases of Ebola, indicated the scale of concerns gripping officials across several continents.
There were also fears that the disease may have reached the far side of the world after an Australian nurse who treated Ebola patients while working for the International Red Cross in Sierra Leone developed a fever following her return.
Sue-Ellen Kovack, 56, was admitted to hospital in Cairns, Queensland, where doctors will receive the results of an Ebola test on Friday. She felt healthy when she arrived home last weekend but still quarantined herself as a precaution, raising hopes that even if she has been infected, she will not have passed the virus to others.
In the US, Ashoka Mukpo, a British-American photojournalist with NBC News who tested positive for Ebola in Liberia, continued to receive treatment with an experimental anti-viral drug in hospital in Nebraska.
But Texas health officials said they did not believe that a deputy sheriff who was admitted to hospital after suffering possible Ebola symptoms was at risk of the disease.
Sgt Michael Monnig had entered the Dallas apartment of Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian man who died of Ebola in Texas this week. Doctors said that he was being treated out of an “abundance of caution”.
Zimbabwe also experienced an Ebola scare when the main infectious disease hospital in Harare was closed following the admission of a Congolese student who was vomiting and bleeding. That case also turned out to be a false alarm as the young woman later tested positive for malaria.
In Prague, however, a 56-year-old Czech man with Ebola symptoms was being tested for the virus yesterday. A spokesman for the Bulovka hospital said the man, who had recently travelled in Liberia, was in isolation, and that tests had been carried out and sent to a laboratory in Berlin. Results should be known on Friday, he said.
And in New York, about 200 cabin cleaners at LaGuardia Airport went on strike partly because of fears about the risk of Ebola, saying they were not receiving the proper equipment or training.
“The workers are really worried because they tend to be exposed to bodily fluids, including by cleaning out bathrooms on airplanes,” said Amity Paye, a union spokesman.
The union is holding its own training sessions, claiming that the airlines are not preparing workers to handle airplanes that might carry Ebola-contaminated material.
The US government will this weekend begin checks at five major airports of the temperatures and health histories of passengers who began their journeys in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.
More than 8,000 people in West Africa have so far officially been diagnosed with Ebola and the fatality rate is nearly 50 per cent. But the World Health Organisation believes that the true tally of infected and dead is much higher.
Meanwhile, the first trial of an Ebola vaccine in Africa started in Mali with the vaccination of three health care workers The vaccine, one of several now being tested, was developed at the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a consortium led by the University of Maryland is carrying out the trial.
Mali has not experienced any Ebola cases but medical experts want to conduct the trials in the region that has been hit by the crisis. Tests are also expected to begin in Gambia soon.
By Philip Sherwell, New York