News Africa

Saturday 20 September 2014

Liberian police put slum under lock down to contain Ebola

Published 20/08/2014 | 14:00

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Health workers wearing protective clothing in a slum
Health workers wearing protective clothing in a slum

Security forces have blocked off a seaside slum in Liberia's capital, stepping up the government's fight to stop the spread of Ebola.

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In central Monrovia there were few cars or people about as nervous residents stayed inside after president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf ordered West Point sealed off and imposed a night-time curfew, saying that authorities have not been able to curtail the spread of Ebola in the face of defiance of their recommendations.

Ms Sirleaf also ordered gathering places such as cinemas and nightclubs shut and put Dolo Town, 30 miles (50 kilometres) south of the capital, under quarantine as well.

"These measures are meant to save lives," she said in an address on Tuesday night.

Ebola has killed at least 1,229 of the more than 2,200 people it has sickened in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria in the outbreak, according to World Health Organisation figures. Liberia has the highest death toll and its number of cases is rising the fastest.

Fear and tension are running high in the capital, especially in places such as West Point where there is substantial mistrust of authority. Dead bodies are dumped daily in the streets by relatives who fear infection. Fearful residents call a government hotline to ask that they be removed, but they sometimes remain outside for hours or days.

Riot police and soldiers deployed to block anyone from entering or leaving West Point, which occupies a peninsula where the Mesurado River meets the Atlantic Ocean. Few roads go into the area and major road runs along the base of the peninsula, serving as a barrier between the neighbourhood and the rest of Monrovia. A coast guard boat was also patrolling the waters around the kilometre (0.6 mile)-long peninsula.

A woman who called into a local radio station's breakfast programme said she was blocked in traffic because there was a protest in West Point by disgruntled youths opposed to the quarantine.

Residents of the slum looted an Ebola screening centre over the weekend, accusing the government of bringing sick people from all over the city to their neighbourhood.

While Ms Sirleaf blamed the disease's continued spread on people who have hidden the sick or defied orders against touching dead bodies, many Liberians feel their government is not doing enough to protect them from the dreaded disease.

One resident, Richard Kieh, told the Associated Press that the community was in "disarray" following the arrival of forces on Wednesday morning.

"Prices of things have been doubled here," he said.

The current outbreak is currently the most severe in Liberia and Sierra Leone, but the UN health agency said that there were encouraging signs that the tide was beginning to turn in Guinea. There is also hope that Nigeria has managed to contain the disease to only a few cases

Nigeria's health minister, Onyebuchi Chukwu, said that a fifth person had died of the disease in that country. All of Nigeria's reported cases so far have been people who had direct contact with a Liberian-American man who was already infected when he arrived in the country on an airliner.

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