Sierra Leone bans Christmas celebrations in bid to halt Ebola virus

Sierra Leone bans Christmas and New Year's celebrations as Ebola caseload continues to climb

Authorities in Sierra Leone have banned public Christmas and New Year’s celebrations in a bid to halt the spread of Ebola, according to local news reports.

Paolo Conteh, who heads the country’s national Ebola response, said troops would be deployed to prevent any street parties, and residents should spend the holidays at home, Sierra Leone’s Awoko newspaper reported Friday.

“He sternly warned that there is a big problem with the Western Area and if they don’t change their behavior and attitude in the fight against Ebola, people will still continue to die,” the paper said.

Most Sierra Leoneans are Muslims, but Christians make up about a quarter of the population and celebrations are common during the holiday period.

It was the latest in a series of tough measures enacted as infection rates in the West African country have soared this year.  

Bars and night spots have been shut down and entire districts placed under quarantine. In September, Sierra Leone ordered people nationwide to stay at home for three days while health workers went door to door, distributing information about Ebola and searching for new cases.

More than 8,000 confirmed and suspected Ebola cases have been reported in Sierra Leone, with nearly 1,900 deaths, according to figures released Friday by the World Health Organization.

Sierra Leone has overtaken Liberia as the country with the heaviest caseload. The virus was first detected in March in neighboring Guinea, but cases have been traced to last December.

Health workers sent to investigate the latest Ebola flare-up, in the remote Sierra Leone diamond mining district of Kono, found a grim scene: bodies piling up, doctors and nurses at their wits end and exhausted burial teams and lab technicians, the WHO reported Wednesday.

“In 11 days, two teams buried 87 bodies, including a nurse, an ambulance driver and a janitor drafted into removing bodies as they piled up at the only area hospital, ill-equipped to deal with the dangerous pathogen,” the report said.

In the five days before the WHO team arrived in Kono, an eastern district bordering Guinea, 25 people had died in a hastily cordoned off section of the hospital that was serving as an Ebola holding center, it said.

Local health workers were doing the best they could but ran out of resources, Dr. Olu Olushayo, who coordinates the WHO’s Ebola response in Sierra Leone, was quoted as saying.

The government ordered a two-week lockdown in Kono while local and international health workers raced to get the outbreak under control, the Associated Press reported.

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