France to bring in Ebola checks ‘on all transport’

French president François Hollande said on Friday that measures to counter the risk of Ebola reaching France will be increased with tests to be carried out on people arriving in France on “all forms of transport”, meaning boats as well as planes.

France to bring in Ebola checks 'on all transport'
A passenger arriving at Charles de Gaulle airport is checked for Ebola. Photo: Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP

France is already carrying out checks at airports on passengers arriving from those countries in West Africa hit by the Ebola epidemic, but Hollande said on Friday those checks will also be introduced on “all modes of transport” to counter the risk of the disease.

“France must have control systems in place that should not simply apply to air traffic, but all modes of transport, including maritime. This is what we will put in place,” Hollande said at a press conference at the EU summit in Brussels.

France's health minister later clarified that the checks would involve taking the temperature of passengers arriving in France by boat from West Africa. 

These boats "will be checked, which means that people who will get off, sailors or passengers, will have their temperature taken," said the minister Marisol Touraine.

Hollande also called for people not to “catastrophize" around the growing Ebola epidemic, nor fall into "inaction".

“Catastrophizing will only produce panic,” he said. “Ebola needs to be treated in Africa and around the world,” he said.

France is yet to report its first case of Ebola but in recent weeks there have been several false alarms, notably when a nurse, who treated an Ebola patient fell ill in Paris.

She was admitted to hospital and isolated in a special ward, but tests later revealed she did not have the disease, that has claimed nearly 5,000 victims, mostly in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

France's Institute of public health surveillance (InVS) said there has been a total of 480 suspected cases of Ebola reported in France since June.

However only 17 of those were serious enough to be classed as “possible cases”.

None of those turned out to be positive, but with a case being confirmed in New York on Friday, many see it as only a matter of time before France confirms its first victim of Ebola.

Scientists in the UK predicted it would happen before the end of October.

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Ebola: Hollande to be first leader to visit region

French President Francois Hollande will on Friday begin a visit to Guinea, making him the first Western leader to travel to a country hit hard by the deadly Ebola virus.

Ebola: Hollande to be first leader to visit region
Guinean Red Cross workers wearing protective suits carry the corpse of a victim of Ebola in Macenta. Photo: Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP

Guinea has already lost 1,200 people to the disease which has killed over 5,600 in total and infected almost 16,000, mainly in west Africa, according to World Health Organization figures.

The visit, the first by a French president since 1999, is a bid to deliver "a message of solidarity" to Guinea as it battles the worst outbreak of Ebola since the virus was discovered in 1976.

France has pledged 100 million euros ($125 million) as a contribution in the fight against Ebola, focusing its efforts on Guinea.

The money is due to help with financing several care centres in Guinea as well as funding 200 beds, some of which are reserved for health workers caring for the sick.

France has also pledged to set up two training centres for health workers, one in France and one in Guinea. In addition, French biotechnology companies will set up rapid diagnostic tests in Africa.

During the trip, Hollande was due to visit healthcare facilities, participate in a round-table discussion on Ebola as well as hold talks with his Guinean counterpart Alpha Conde.

After the one-day trip to Guinea, Hollande travels to Dakar to take part in a summit of French-speaking leaders that is likely to be dominated by the Ebola crisis as well as the recent unrest in Burkina Faso.

The OIF (International Organisation of French-Speakers) is expected to appoint a successor to former Senegalese leader Abdou Diouf.

However, there is no clear front-runner from the five main candidates, with a French government source telling AFP: "Anything could happen, including a last-minute candidate."

The OIF was founded in 1970 with the ambition to be a "French Commonwealth", a rival to the mainly English-speaking group of countries that are predominantly former British colonies.

But it is battling to find its relevance and retain its funding at a time when many governments find their budgets under pressure. France reduced its funding for the group by 20 percent this year.

French is currently spoken by close to 274 million people, with more than 50 percent of those in Africa — the 5th most spoken language in the world, behind Mandarin Chinese, English, Spanish and Arabic or Hindu depending on how it is calculated.

By 2050, the percentage of French speakers based in Africa is due to rise to 85 percent, with 700 million Francophones expected on the continent by then.