Clashes erupted Wednesday as security forces sealed off a sprawling seaside slum in the Liberian capital in a bid to prevent the spread of the deadly Ebola virus.
Angry residents stormed barbed-wire barricades and threw stones at the troops, who fired shots in the air to drive them back, news reports said. Photographs from the scene showed a youth on the ground with blood pouring from his legs.
Fear and confusion have been spreading in the West African nation, where at least 576 people have died, more than in any other country affected by the deadliest Ebola outbreak on record.
The outbreak began in neighboring Guinea in March and has spread to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria. At least 1,350 people have died, the World Health Organization said Wednesday, and the disease continues to spread, with more than 2,400 suspected or confirmed cases identified.
Over the weekend, residents angry about the placement of an Ebola screening center in Monrovia’s West Point slum attacked the facility, chasing away sick patients and carrying off bloody sheets and other possibly contaminated items, the Associated Press reported.
All 37 patients have been located and are receiving treatment, Liberian health authorities said, but it is unclear how many more people may have been exposed to the disease. The virus is easily spread through contact with bodily fluids.
In a statement released Tuesday, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf ordered security forces to impose a quarantine on West Point, which is home to about 50,000 people, and on Dolo Town, about 30 miles south of the capital, Monrovia.
She also announced a nationwide curfew from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. and ordered all “entertainment centers” closed indefinitely.
“We have been unable to control the spread due to continued denials, cultural burying practices, disregard for the advice of health workers and disrespect for the warnings by the government,” Johnson Sirleaf said in the statement. “It has thus become necessary to impose additional sanctions … If we can all do our part, we can defeat this disease.”
On Wednesday, police in riot gear and soldiers began blocking the roads into West Point, and a coast guard boat patrolled offshore, setting off protests by residents who say not enough is being done to help them, news reports said.
When a local government representative returned to get her relatives out, hundreds of people surrounded her house and threw stones at security forces, who fired shots in the air and hustled the family away in a car, the Associated Press reported.
The United Nations health agency has declared the Ebola outbreak in West Africa an international public health emergency. It warned Wednesday that countries were beginning to experience shortages of food, fuel and other basic supplies after some airlines and shipping services halted transport to affected areas.
The WHO said such companies were at low risk of exposure and urged them to continue deliveries.