Sierra Leone Ebola lockdown empties streets

30,000 health workers travel house-to-house as population of six million are confined to their homes in drastic measure.

    Sierra Leone has begun a three-day nationwide lockdown, confining its population of six million to their homes in an effort to halt the spread of the deady Ebola virus by allowing health workers find and isolate cases.

    After the lockdown came into effect on Friday, the Associated Press news agency reported that the streets of the capital city Freetown, population 1.2 million, were deserted, aside from vehicles carrying police and health workers.

    These are extraordinary times and extraordinary times require extraordinary measures.

    President Ernest Bai Koroma

    But many volunteers at the Murray Town Health Center in Freetown said on Friday that they had not yet received their kits, containing soap, stickers and flyers.

    "This means we are going to achieve less than our target for today or stay beyond six o'clock this evening to be able to do so," one of the volunteers said.

    In a televised address late on Thursday President Ernest Bai Koroma said: "Today, the life of everyone is at stake, but we will get over this difficulty if all do what we have been asked to do."

    "These are extraordinary times and extraordinary times require extraordinary measures."

    At least 562 people have died of the virus in Sierra Leone and nearly 30,000 health workers, volunteers and teachers aim to visit every single household in the country in just three days to educate people and isolate the sick.

    UNICEF said the measure provides an opportunity to tell people how to protect themselves. 

    "Ose to Ose Ebola Tok" - "house-to-house Ebola talk" in the widely-spoken Krio language - will see more than 7,000 volunteer teams of four visiting the country's 1.5 million homes. 

    They will hand out bars of soap and information on how to prevent infection, as well as setting up "neighbourhood watch"-style community Ebola surveillance teams.

    Guinea slayings

    Ebola has infected at least 5,357 people in West Africa this year, killing 2,630 of them, in the worst epidemic of the virus so far.

    Healthcare workers seeking to contain the Ebola outbreak have often been met with deep mistrust by local communities.

    Journalist Ashley Hamer, reporting from the eastern Kailahun region, told Al Jazeera that people there did not seem angered by the measures on Friday and that they were cooperating with autorities.

    She said that all shops were closed and residents could not buy any food at all.

    The campaign has caused a 30 percent hike in food prices, according to an official from the country's chamber of agriculture, who said people were calling radio programmes to say they were running out of food.

    Some people have lashed out at health workers, accusing them of bringing Ebola to the region, while others do not believe the disease exists. Some have reacted with fear and panic when outsiders have come to conduct awareness campaigns.

    In neighbouring Guinea on Thursday, the bodies of a team of eight people educating locals on Ebola risks were found dumped in a village latrine, three of them with their throats cut.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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