Sierra Leone leader orders new national lockdown to battle Ebola

Posted at 9:50 PM, Mar 21, 2015
and last updated 2015-03-21 21:51:35-04

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone — The president of Sierra Leone has an idea on how to curtail the spread of Ebola: Get everybody to stay inside.

President Ernest Bai Koroma on Saturday launched a campaign called “Zero Ebola,” in which almost all Sierra Leoneans are supposed to stay indoors March 27-29 and from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on three consecutive Saturdays — April 4, 11 and 18.

“The campaign will provide an opportunity for communities to be directly involved in the drive to zero cases, to reflect and to pray for the eradication of this disease from our country,” he said in a statement.

Sierra Leona tried a three-day lockdown last September in what was primarily an informational campaign, with volunteers going door-to-door to talk with residents about the virus. In August, the Liberian government locked down one of the poorest neighborhoods in the capital of Monrovia in an attempt to stop the spread of the virus. The move resulted in riots.

No commercial activity is supposed to occur during the upcoming lockdown, Koroma said. Because March 29 is Palm Sunday, church services will be allowed from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Health workers, journalists and public safety officers are exempted.

Koroma noted that his country has made “tremendous progress” in the fight against the deadly disease as the Ministry of Health reported zero new infections Friday.

He warned that the rate of transmissions may increase during the upcoming rainy season.

“The economic development of our country and the lives of our people continue to be threatened by the ongoing presence of Ebola in Sierra Leone,” he said. “The future of our country and the aspirations of our children are at stake.”

During Sierra Leone’s lockdown last year, Doctors Without Borders said such an effort is unlikely to stop the spread of the disease.

“Large-scale coercive measures like forced quarantines and lockdowns are driving people underground and jeopardizing the trust between people and health providers,” the charity group said in a statement. “This is leading to the concealment of cases and is pushing the sick away from health systems.”

Sierra Leone has the largest number of confirmed Ebola cases — 11,751 so far, according to the World Health Organization.

WHO says Liberia has the highest number of deaths — 4,264.

So far, 10,194 have died from Ebola and 24,701 have been infected, according to WHO.

Ebola is spread by direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person.

The National Institutes for Health said Thursday it will admit an American health care worker with Ebola to its Maryland hospital. The person was volunteering at an Ebola treatment center in Sierra Leone.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last Tuesday that 15 American aid workers who had high-risk exposure to Ebola in Sierra Leone have arrived back in the United States for monitoring. None is known to be infected with the disease.