CONGO     -    The Ebola virus has reached the Congolese city of Goma, home to 2 million people and a transport hub for central Africa, for the first time since an epidemic began in the Democratic Republic of the Congo nearly a year ago.

The DRC health ministry said a man who had arrived in the regional centre on Sunday had been quickly transported to an Ebola treatment centre.

Authorities said they had tracked down all the passengers on the bus the man had taken from Butembo, one of the towns hardest hit by the disease.

“Because of the speed with which the patient was identified and isolated, and the identification of all the other bus passengers coming from Butembo, the risk of it spreading in the rest of the city of Goma is small,” the health ministry said.

The virus has killed more than 1,600 people in the DRC and two others who returned home across the border to neighbouring Uganda. About 700 people have recovered from infections.

The latest official statistics list a total of 2,489 cases, of which 2,395 are confirmed. Twelve new cases were confirmed over the weekend and there were 10 deaths.

The confirmed case announced late on Sunday in eastern Congo involves a pastor who became ill on Tuesday and sought treatment at a registered health centre. It is thought he was receiving care from a nurse at his accommodation in Butembo but decided to leave the city, and arrived at a health centre in Goma, North Kivu province, on Sunday showing symptoms of Ebola.

The 46-year-old did not show signs of illness at three medical checkpoints on the 18-hour journey, though he gave different names, indicating a desire to hide his identity, officials said. He has now been sent back to Butembo for further care.

While in Butembo, the pastor held regular services in seven churches, during which he laid his hands on worshippers, including people who were ill, the health ministry said.

Officials called on local communities to take precautions such as washing their hands and avoiding physical contact with anyone suspected of contamination with the virus.

The number of people moving around or through the zone worst hit by Ebola has been a big challenge for health services. Another problem has been attacks against health workers and treatment facilities. On Monday the health ministry said two Ebola awareness workers had been killed in the affected zone.

Eastern DRC is home to a myriad of armed groups, and Mai Mai militia fighters are active near the hardest-hit towns. Health teams have been unable to access areas affected by violence to vaccinate people at risk of infection and to bring infected patients into isolation.

At other times the violence against health teams has come from residents who do not want their loved ones taken to treatment centres or buried in accordance with guidelines aimed at reducing Ebola transmission.