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Tuesday 23 September 2014

Ebola state of emergency in Liberia

Published 07/08/2014 | 02:10

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A man washes his hands in a attempt to stop the spread of the deadly Ebola virus in the city of Monrovia, Liberia (AP)
A Nigerian health official wears protective gear at the arrivals hall of Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos (AP)

Soldiers are clamping down on people trying to travel to Liberia's capital from rural areas hard-hit by the Ebola virus after the president declared a national state of emergency.

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Reports have emerged of families hiding sick relatives at home and of abandoned bodies being left in the streets.

Similar efforts were under way in eastern areas of neighbouring Sierra Leone after officials there launched Operation Octopus to try to keep those with Ebola in isolation.

While the outbreak has now reached four countries, Liberia and Sierra Leone account for more than 60% of the deaths, according to the World Health Organisation.

The outbreak that emerged in March has claimed at least 932 lives.

In announcing the 90-day state of emergency, Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said the worst recorded Ebola outbreak in history requires "extraordinary measures for the very survival of our state and for the protection of the lives of our people".

"Ignorance, poverty, as well as entrenched religious and cultural practices continue to exacerbate the spread of the disease, especially in the counties," she said.

She warned that some civil liberties could be suspended as needed and soldiers are already restricting movements on the roads to the capital, Monrovia, witnesses said.

Some soldiers were deployed to the crossroads town of Klay about 25 miles (40 kilometres) west of Monrovia in an effort to stop people from three Ebola-infected counties from coming closer to the capital.

Yet even as authorities tried to keep more people from reaching Monrovia, the capital has already been hard-hit by the virus.

National Health Workers Association president Joseph Tamba said the state of emergency is necessary. But he said people should have been given advance notice to buy food ahead of the movement restrictions.

Previous outbreaks of the Ebola virus were limited to parts of Congo and Uganda, far from the capital cities in those countries.

The World Health Organisation is holding talks this week on whether to declare an international health emergency.

In Zimbabwe, president Robert Mugabe is considering withdrawing his country's soldiers, police and prison officers serving as UN peacekeepers in Liberia because of the outbreak, the state-run Herald newspaper reported.

"We must not expose ourselves unnecessarily," he was quoted as saying. Peacekeepers are in Liberia until elections in 2017.

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