Police in the Liberian capital have fired live rounds and tear gas to disperse a stone-throwing crowd trying to break an Ebola quarantine imposed on their neighbourhood, as the death toll from the epidemic in West Africa hit 1,350.
In the sprawling oceanfront West Point neighbourhood of Monrovia, at least four people were injured in clashes with security forces, witnesses said. It was unclear whether anyone was wounded by the gunfire, though a Reuters news agency photographer saw a young boy with his leg largely severed just above the ankle on Wednesday.
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I don't have any food and we're scared.
Liberian authorities introduced a nationwide curfew on Tuesday and put the West Point neighbourhood under quarantine to curb the spread of the disease.
“The soldiers are using live rounds,” said army spokesman Dessaline Allison, adding: “The soldiers applied the rules of engagement. They did not fire on peaceful citizens. There will be medical reports if (an injury) was from bullet wounds.”
The World Health Organization said that the countries hit by the worst ever outbreak of the deadly virus were beginning to suffer shortages of fuel, food and basic supplies after shipping companies and airlines suspended services to the region.
The epidemic of the hemorrhagic fever, which can kill up to 90 percent of those it infects, is ravaging the three small West African states of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. It also has a toehold in Nigeria, Africa’s biggest economy and most populous country.
Liberia – where the death toll is rising fastest – said its ministry of health warehouse had run out of rubber boots and bottles of hand sanitiser, essential for preventing the spread of the disease.
Still struggling to recover from a devastating 1989-2003 civil war, Liberia recorded 95 deaths in the two days to August 18th, the World Health Organization said. Since it was discovered in remote southeastern Guinea in March, the overall death toll from the outbreak has reached 1,350 from a total of 2,473 cases.
One million in quarantine zones
Witnesses said the clashes in West Point started after security forces early on Wednesday blocked roads to the neighbourhood with tables, chairs and barbed wire. Residents said they were not warned.
Security forces also came in to escort the local commissioner out of the neighbourhood, they said.
Attempts to isolate the worst affected areas of the country and neighbouring Sierra Leone have raised fears of unrest in one of the world’s poorest regions should communities start to run low on food and medical supplies.
“I don’t have any food and we’re scared,” said Alpha Barry, a resident of West Point who said he came from Guinea and has four children under age 13.
In an effort to calm tensions, authorities on Wednesday started delivering tonnes of rice, oil and essential foodstuffs to West Point, residents and a government official said.
The World Food Programme has begun emergency food shipments to quarantined zones where a million people may be at risk of shortages. The WHO has appealed to companies and international organisations to continue providing supplies and services to countries at risk, saying there was a low risk of contagion.