Rome (AFP) - The decision to put a dozen American soldiers returning from Liberia into quarantine for Ebola at their base near Venice rather than in the United States sparked controversy in Italy Wednesday.
"They shouldn't have been sent here, they should do their quarantine for Ebola at home," said the president of the region's assembly, Luca Zaia, insisting "it would have been more respectful" of the United States to have "thought about the risks posed to local citizens".
The Messaggero daily spoke of fears among the local population, with a rise in the number of calls to the emergency services from worried citizens. Soldiers from the base being given a wide berth in nearby pubs.
Zaia, a member of the anti-immigrant Northern League party, was not the only one to object to the US decision to quarantine the soldiers in Italy.
"The government must send all the US soldiers back to Washington," the anti-establishment Five Star party said, according to media reports.
Not only was information about the current state of health of the soldiers "limited to general reassurances from the American authorities", but there were fears other soldiers on the base "may have been in contact" with those returning from west Africa, they said.
The San Bortolo hospital in Vicenza has prepared a special isolation unit within its department for infectious diseases, with five beds ready for eventual Ebola cases.
The commander of the US military mission in Liberia, Major General Darryl Williams, began 21 days of isolation at the base in Vicenza along with 11 other members of his staff after returning from west Africa this week. None of them currently shows Ebola symptoms.
Another 35 American soldiers are expected to return from west Africa on Wednesday to the northern Italian base, where they will be put in isolation as well.
West Africa is the epicenter of the Ebola outbreak which has claimed the lives of nearly 5,000 people. The often deadly virus is spread only through direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person showing symptoms such as fever or vomiting.