Ebola hit Sierra Leone would reopen the country's schools on March 30, after a 7-month shutdown to limit the spread of the deadly Ebola virus. The announcement clarifies a commitment made by the government in January 2015 to have all schools open by the end of March.
The government announced a state of emergency in July in response to the Ebola outbreak which has killed almost 9,000 people in the region, more than 3,000 of them in Sierra Leone. The rate of new infections has significantly dropped in recent weeks, paving the way for a gradual return to normal. Sierra Leone is one of three West African countries hit by the Ebola outbreak, together with Guinea and Liberia. Schools in Guinea have reopened on January 19, and Liberia announced last week that its schools would reopen on February 16.
President Ernest Bai Koroma's office said that he had granted permission for work to start on water and sanitation issues, Ebola screenings and psychosocial support, ahead of the reopening. Education minister Minkailu Bah said, "Thermometers will be made available to all schools to deal with any sudden attack before referral to a holding center. Isolation centers will be set up in each school and all primary school pupils will be dewormed."
The announcement in the capital Freetown received mixed reactions from the residents. The private radio station African Young Voices was deluged with critical calls, where a caller said, "The decision will be a recipe for danger and it would have been better for the authorities to wait a few more months before making the reopening." But there was another caller who said, "It is a thoughtful decision for all that would halt a rise in teenage pregnancy seen since schools closed and show the war against Ebola was being won."
In a second announcement, Sierra Leone's presidency said it was delaying a population census planned for April until December because of the crisis. The statement said, "The postponement will not compromise the census data quality. It will however affect the timing of the release of the census results, and the final results initially expected in December 2015 will only be available by December 2016."