Reacting with extreme caution amid skyrocketing fears over the outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus, European nations Friday were monitoring dozens more people for signs of the disease after placing them in isolation.
Ebola has killed nearly 4,000 people in West Africa since March. In Europe, there has only been one confirmed case of the disease being contracted on European soil. However, how a Spanish nurse got Ebola while working in a secure facility has led to finger-pointing and blame in Madrid, raising concerns that other European nations could see similar cases without strict precautions.
In Macedonia, 35 people have been placed in isolation. Authorities are awaiting lab test results of blood and tissue samples that were sent to Frankfurt, Germany, for analysis after being taken from a Briton who died Thursday within hours of going to a hospital in Skopje, Reuters reports.
Officials said there was only a “small probability” he had Ebola. The test results were expected by Saturday.
"Based on the epidemiological analysis made yesterday, health authorities are closer to the standpoint that there is a small probability he had Ebola," Dr. Jovanka Kostovska of the health ministry's commission for infectious diseases told a news conference....
Ten others were in hospital isolation, including the ambulance crew that treated the Briton. None of the 35 patients in isolation had shown any symptoms of Ebola.
In Prague, a Czech man is being tested for symptoms of the virus. And in Spain, seven additional people are being monitored after turning themselves in voluntarily to an Ebola isolation unit in Madrid. That's where a nurse, Teresa Romero, who treated two Spanish missionaries infected in Africa, is herself being treated. Six others were already being monitored in the unit.
The nurse’s condition was described as serious but stable. She was diagnosed days after reporting symptoms. Ebola is passed on only through contact with the bodily fluids of those showing symptoms of the disease.
The blame game
How Ms. Romero could have become infected at such a secure facility and why she wasn’t diagnosed earlier were topics of recriminations Friday in Spain, Reuters reports.
Spanish labor unions accused the government of seeking to deflect the blame onto Romero for the failings of its health system, after the European Union asked Spain to explain how the virus could have been spread on a high-security ward.
The top regional health official in Madrid, Javier Rodriguez, said Romero took too long to admit she had made a mistake by touching her face with the glove of her protective suit while taking it off.
El Mundo newspaper on Friday published a cartoon showing Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and other officials of the ruling People's Party pointing at the nurse under the caption: "Protocol for passing on blame."
"They will find any way to blame her," Romero's brother, Jose Ramon, told the daily El Pais. "Basically, my sister did her job ... and she has become infected with Ebola."
One union representative said on Friday that health workers from doctors to ambulance drivers were worried about their lack of training in how to deal with Ebola patients.
"Finding staff to work voluntarily [in the isolation unit] is very difficult," said Jose Manuel Freire, spokesman for a health workers' union.
A 'police state' response to Ebola?
In Liberia, meanwhile, the West African country hardest hit by the outbreak, lawmakers were debating Friday whether to grant President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf more power to restrict public gatherings and the movements of civilians, the Associated Press reports.
According to the World Health Organization, more than 2,200 people have died of Ebola in the country. But with a three-month state of emergency already in place, the proposed additional measures are spurring protests, and one parliamentarian warned that Liberia could turn into a "police state."
Among the measures under consideration are the appropriation of property "without payment of any kind or any further judicial process."
"I see a kind of police state creeping in," said lawmaker Bhofal Chambers, a one-time supporter of President Sirleaf and who has since joined the opposition camp.
On Thursday, Liberian police used batons and rattan whips to disperse 100 protesters speaking out against the new powers. Student activist Benedict B. Williams urged lawmakers not to approve them.
"In my view I think the people have the right to assemble," Mr. Williams said. "This is tantamount to dictatorship. The police brutalized people who are from the student community."
Hanging over the debate on individual freedoms is a warning Wednesday from the World Bank that that the economies of Liberia and other Western African nations, including those where the disease has not spread, could suffer tens of billions of dollars in damage by the end of 2015 if the outbreak is not quickly contained.