New Ebola case in Congo days before officials intended to declare end of outbreak

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BENI, Congo — A new case of the Ebola virus has been confirmed in eastern Congo, just three days before the country expected to declare an end to the outbreak, the World Health Organization said Friday.

The new case was confirmed in Beni, a community that had been an epicenter of the second-deadliest Ebola outbreak in history.

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It had been nearly 42 days without a case, and WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Congo’s declaration had been planned for Monday.

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“We have been preparing for and expecting more cases,” he said, reflecting the caution that mixed with optimism in recent days.

“I am sad,” WHO Africa chief Matshidiso Moeti said in a tweet.

Health workers in Congo had been awaiting the end of one global public health emergency — Ebola — while bracing for the arrival of another: the coronavirus. Already, two coronavirus cases have been reported in Beni.

“We’ll just have to go for another 42 days,” or the required period of time without a case for the Ebola outbreak to be declared over, said Mike Ryan, the emergencies chief for the WHO.

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“Maybe that’s our lesson for COVID-19: There is no exit strategy until you’re in control of the situation,” Ryan said. “You must always be ready to start again … never be surprised.”

The Ebola outbreak has claimed more than 2,260 lives — second to the 2014-2016 outbreak in West Africa.

The current outbreak declared in August 2018 has occurred in especially challenging conditions amid deadly rebel attacks, community suspicion and some of the world’s weakest infrastructure in remote areas. Some Ebola responders were attacked and killed.

And yet the outbreak has seen the use of experimental Ebola vaccines, a welcome development in fighting one of the world’s most notorious diseases.

In Beni on Friday, some residents were crushed.

“It’s really a shame,” said Mbusa Kyota, who had just heard the news of the new Ebola case on the radio.

“Now doctors, and the population, have to multiply their efforts to defeat this outbreak one more time.”

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Health workers had already been turning their Ebola messaging and other efforts to fighting the coronavirus.

“This is a devastating development for the communities in eastern (Congo) who are also under threat from the coronavirus outbreak, in addition to ongoing conflict and displacement,” Kate Moger, a regional vice president with the International Rescue Committee, said in a statement.

—Cheng reported from London

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