Travel restrictions and a ban on New year revelry are the firm decisions taken, concerning Ebola by Sierra Leone.
The strictures came as hundreds of health workers and volunteers fanned out across the country's west, where the capital Freetown is located, to begin the 15-day exercise officially dubbed the "Western Area Surge". The operation includes door-to-door monitoring and a sweeping sensitisation programme.
AdvertisementAlthough Islam is the dominant religion in Sierra Leone, more than a quarter of the population is Christian and public gatherings and entertainment are common during the holiday period. President Ernest Bai Koroma led the charge in a nationwide radio address saying "travel and movements between districts will be restricted during the Christmas period" across the west African nation. "Christians attending church ceremonies on Christmas Day will be allowed to do so but are requested to return home immediately after the church services to celebrate Christmas with their families. All New Year Eve festivities including church services and New Year day outings are prohibited. Any church wishing to hold a service on New Year Eve should ensure that the service ends before 5 pm on Wednesday, December 31st", he said.
Ebola has killed more than 6,800 people, almost all of them in west Africa. The three countries worst-hit by the epidemic are Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. Sierra Leone overtook Liberia recently as the country with the highest number of Ebola infections.
"All public gatherings are prohibited including public activities around restaurants, nightclubs and beach areas. Traders and market women are allowed to trade from 6 am to 6 pm Mondays to Fridays and 6 am to 12 pm on Saturdays while trading on Sundays is suspended until further notice" Koroma said. He added that "violators will be subjected to the penalties stipulated by law" Koroma said, "more than 50 percent of new Ebola cases recorded over the past two weeks occurred in the western region. Our country is at war with a vicious enemy that is taking the lives of our people."
Terence Smith, the head of a team visiting households in the mountain village of Regent overlooking Freetown, said he was "surprised by the enthusiasm with which people are talking freely and telling us whether they have sick people in their midst or not". Separately, the operation kicked off with groups of health workers visiting homes in the area with brochures on Ebola and detecting early signs of the disease.
International medical charity MSF (Medecins sans Frontieres, Doctors Without Borders) said the fight against Ebola had to be stepped up in Sierra Leone.
"As far as community mobilisation is concerned it must be improved as people need to understand what Ebola is and how to avoid being infected. This would create a greater impact on the outbreak."