The government on Saturday lifted the quarantine of the region affected by the killer Ebola virus, allowing free travel between the region and the rest of Zaire for the first time in 10 days.
The move was not an indication the epidemic is over - the death toll jumped Saturday to 97 from 89 the previous day - rather an admission that the quarantine was a misguided effort to control the illness.
“It was a bad misunderstanding,” said Dr. Abdou Moudi of the World Health Organization, describing the attempt to lock up the entire Bandundu region that includes the epidemic’s center of Kikwit.
The government imposed the quarantine May 10 after Ebola was blamed for a string of deaths in Kikwit, a city of 600,000 people about 250 miles east of the capital, Kinshasa. Moudi said people were now free to leave Kikwit.
Health experts said the quarantine was largely ineffective because soldiers manning the main roadblock on the highway to Kinshasa could easily be bribed. In addition, they said anyone already struck by the virus would be too weak to make their way out of the quarantined region.
Thousands of people waiting at a roadblock at the edge of the quarantined zone broke into applause as officials announced they would be free to leave after quick medical checks.
Doctors and nurses examined them briefly for symptoms of Ebola, such as fever or body aches, before waving them through.
Many had been stuck at the road block for 10 days with little food or water.