Anonymous blackmailers are threatening to spread Ebola in the Czech Republic if the country's government does not pay them a million euros, in Bitcoin.
An email allegedly from the blackmailers, published on Monday by the country's top commercial TV station TV Nova, claimed they had "biological material" from an infected patient in Liberia.
"An unknown perpetrator or perpetrators are blackmailing this state, threatening to spread the Ebola virus," Zdenek Laube, the country's deputy police chief, told reporters, according to AFP.
Bohuslav Sobotka, the Czech Republic's prime minister, called the blackmailers "hyenas" for taking advantage of the fear caused by the recent Ebola threat.
Blackmailers reportedly demanded the one million euros of the virtual currency be payable in three installments.
The Czech Republic's interior ministry issued a public statement saying that "the culprit or culprits are using very sophisticated communication methods," but did not elaborate on what those methods might be.
The Czech Republic currently has no confirmed cases of Ebola, although has had several scares this month.
The first was a businessman who returned from Liberia in early October and was taken to a hospital in Prague before ultimately testing negative to the virus. After a woman was also admitted to a hospital in the capital, the country started to screen passengers coming through Prague's international airport who had visited the affected areas of Africa in the past 42 days, despite the fact that no flights go directly from West Africa to Prague's airport.
It is this panic blackmailers are hoping to exploit, said Zdenek Laube, the country's deputy police chief.
"From the very beginning these culprits have been seeking to spread panic, which is their primary goal," said Laube.
Footage of a Ghanaian student wrapped in a black bag after a false alarm that he was carrying the virus shows how fear of the virus has the country on edge.
Others, however, believe bitcoin could be used to help battle the virus, which has killed almost 5000 people so far, mainly in West Africa, by simplifying the funding process.
Mike Casey explored this option in The Wall Street Journal's Money Beat blog, "Could Bitcoin Help Fight the Ebola Crisis?" earlier this month.
"As aid agencies and governments seek to transfer funds through foundations and regional not-for-profit entities out to smaller non-profits, and then to tiny local outlets, and finally to the threatened individuals themselves, the barriers in the traditional banking system can gummy up that process at the worst possible time," he wrote. "Enter bitcoin."
Casey points to a 2007 precedent when an alternative mode of money transfer was able to help Kenyan citizens during post-election violence M-Pesa, Kenya's unique system for sending money over mobile phones, helped micro-finance providers move cash around the country, easing the problems caused by the political and sectarian violence.
One group in Sierra Leone is already trying to make it work. The Sierra Leone Liberty Group (SLLG), formed to promote free enterprise as the path to prosperity in the country, is encouraging bitcoin donations to help battle Ebola, according to Coin Desk), the world leader in news, prices, and information on bitcoin and other digital currencies.
"Our hope is to seek help from the bitcoin community so we can help [the] poor and build the economy of our country, as well fundraise to help those affected by Ebola with chlorine bleach, washing rubber, soap, face-marks, and gloves so we can combat this disease," said Mustapha Cole, leader of the SLLG, via the website, Bitcoin Lady Botswana.
Coin Desk reported that the SLLG asked for donations via bitcoin to help fight Ebola's spread back in August, when there had been only 1,400 deaths.
The donation drive has raised a total of 3.173 BTC (USD $1,125.51), and has joined forces with bitcoin communities in both Botswana and Ghana, seeking to raise awareness on social media, such as its Facebook page.
Live Ebola Map, which shows updated information about the spread and mortality rate of the disease, is now accepting bitcoin alongside PayPal as its two major donation channels.
Money raised is being used to help deliver dwindling medical supplies such as disinfectant, goggles, and rubber gloves and also to help educate local populations on how to avoid Ebola infection. Funds have also been used to purchase food for villages cut off by quarantine and road blocks.
The World Health Organization has warned there could be 20,000 cases of Ebola by next month without an increase in international assistance.
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