Philippines to isolate returning peacekeepers for Ebola checks

MANILA (REUTERS) - More than 100 Philippine peacekeepers returning from almost a year in Liberia will be put in quarantine on an isolated island on arrival this week to check for Ebola, the military said on Monday, adding that there were fears about how the public might react.

The 21-day quarantine, on a navy-run island at the mouth of Manila Bay, was in line with World Health Organisation protocols and with government's drive to remain Ebola free, military chief General Gregorio Catapang said.

The death toll from the Ebola epidemic has risen to 4,950 out of 13,241 cases in the three worst-hit countries of West Africa, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, WHO said on Friday, calling for widespread rigorous controls to halt its spread.

"Our peacekeepers belong to no-risk category of the Ebola infection," Catapang told a news conference at the main army base in Manila, two days before the arrival of 108 soldiers, 24 police and jail wardens from Monrovia.

"Our troops have no direct contact with any Ebola victim. Their work is concentrated inside the force headquarters of the United Nations mission in Liberia."

The UN peacekeeping force in Liberia was set up in 2003 to support a civil war ceasefire.

Catapang said the Filipino peacekeepers had undergone thorough medical screening by the United Nations. The quarantine was a further precaution imposed by the Philippines, the largest group to be isolated in the current Ebola crisis, he said.

The peacekeepers will arrive at an air base in Manila on Wednesday and travel by bus to a naval base south of Manila and be transported by ship to Caballo island, a naval facility used by the Americans during World War Two.

Families and friends would be brought to the air base but not allowed contact, army Major-General Domingo Tutaan said.

The military was worried about how the public would react to the peacekeepers' return, he told Reuters. To avoid panic, they would not be required to wear masks and protective gear when they arrive.

The Health Ministry has trained hundreds of medical workers and prepared at least 22 hospitals across the country to handle Ebola cases in case the disease reaches the Philippines.

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