Ebola-hit Sierra Leone to lock down 2.5 million people

Sierra Leone said Thursday it will confine around 2.5 million people to their homes across the capital and in the north in a three-day shutdown aimed at stemming the Ebola epidemic.

AFP| Last Updated: Mar 19, 2015, 18:22 PM IST

Freetown: Sierra Leone said Thursday it will confine around 2.5 million people to their homes across the capital and in the north in a three-day shutdown aimed at stemming the Ebola epidemic.

The worst-ever outbreak of the virus has claimed almost 3,700 lives in the impoverished west African nation, one of three countries that have seen their economies wrecked and healthcare systems obliterated in the crisis.

"The lockdown will be conducted from March 27 to March 29 and will be like the one we conducted in September last year," said Palo Conteh, head of the country`s National Ebola Response Centre.

"The government and partners are hopeful that latent cases that are now not being reported or recorded will come out."

The action, which follows a nationwide lockdown in September, was announced after the World Health Organization (WHO) said Wednesday that the death toll from Ebola since December 2013 stood at almost 10,200.

One of the deadliest viruses known to man, Ebola is spread only through direct contact with the bodily fluids of the recently deceased or an infected person showing symptoms such as fever or vomiting.

No licenced vaccine or treatment exists for the gruesome haemorrhagic fever it causes, although several trials are underway in the three countries and elsewhere.

Authorities will use the 72-hour window to search out patients in the Western Area, which includes Freetown, as well as the northern districts of Bombali and Port Loko.

Teams of experts will go door-to-door reminding households of the dangers of traditional burials, a key factor in the spread of the virus, and investigating deaths not reported to the government.

The lockdown is aimed at controlling a recent spike in the three districts which threatened to undermine the recovery.Authorities hope it will set the country back on course for an April 15 deadline for eradicating Ebola announced by the leaders of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

"People have become complacent and are still touching corpses, washing bodies and taking sick people to traditional healers," Conteh told reporters in Freetown.

"We are determined to bring Ebola to an end and meet the deadline set by the... presidents for April 15. This is what we are working towards."

On Wednesday the World Health Organization (WHO) reported 150 new confirmed cases of Ebola virus disease in the week to 15 March, compared with 116 the previous week.

There were 95 new confirmed cases reported in Guinea -- the highest weekly total for the country in 2015 -- but Sierra Leone is faring better, according the WHO.

The country reported 55 new confirmed cases, the lowest weekly total since late June 2014, and WHO chief Margaret Chan said on Wednesday it had made "tremendous progress" in combating Ebola.

Freetown reported 29 of the infections, while 17 were registered in Bombali and Port Loko.

The lockdown follows a two-week door-to-door operation in Port Loko, a coastal district immediately north and east of the Western Area, to find out if families were harbouring Ebola patients or concealing bodies.

More than 300 healthcare workers have been infected with Ebola in Sierra Leone, and almost three-quarters have died.

US hospital officials said Monday that the condition of an American healthcare worker who contracted Ebola in Sierra Leone has worsened and is now critical.

Ten other healthcare workers who have been in contact with the evacuated clinician are being monitored for signs of illness in the UN.