Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Sierra Leone lockdown begins

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FREETOWN, Sierra Leone (AP) – Sierra Leone confined its six million people to their homes yesterday for the next three days as the Ebola-ravaged West African country began what was believed to be the most sweeping lockdown against disease since the Middle Ages.

In a desperate effort to bring the outbreak under control, thousands of health care workers began going house to house in crowded urban neighbourhoods and remote villages, hoping to find and isolate infected people.

President Ernest Bai Koroma urged his countrymen to cooperate.

“The survival and dignity of each and every Sierra Leonean is at stake,” he said Thursday night in an address to the nation.

Health officials said they planned to urge the sick to leave their homes and seek treatment. There was no immediate word on whether people would be forcibly removed, though authorities warned that anyone on the streets during the lockdown without an emergency pass would be subject to arrest.

More than 2 600 people have died in West Africa over the past nine months in the biggest outbreak of the virus ever recorded, with Sierra Leone accounting for more than 560 of those deaths.

Many fear the crisis will grow far worse, in part because sick people afraid of dying at treatment centres are hiding in their homes, potentially infecting others.

However, international experts warned there might not be enough beds for new patients found during the lockdown, which runs through tomorrow.

Most people seemed to be taking the order seriously, and there were no immediate reports of resistance.

“It will protect our country from this dangerous virus,” said Ishmail Bangura, a Freetown resident. “Many of our people have died – nurses and doctors, too – so if they ask us to stay home for three days, for me it is not bad.”

Across West Africa, health care workers have been attacked by villagers who accused them of spreading Ebola. Some citizens have also violently resisted efforts to quarantine them.

As the lockdown took effect, wooden tables lay empty at the capital’s usually vibrant markets, and only a dog scrounging for food could be seen on one normally crowded street in Freetown.

 

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