FREETOWN, Sierra Leone, Monday December 15, 2014 – With Sierra Leone overtaking Liberia to become the country worst affected by Ebola, authorities have banned public Christmas and New Year celebrations in an attempt to halt the spread of the deadly disease.
While Islam is Sierra Leone’s dominant religion, more than 25 percent of the population is Christian and public celebrations and entertainment are usually widespread over the holiday period.
But the Ebola epidemic has put traditional festivities on hold this year.
Palo Conteh, head of the government’s Ebola response unit, told reporters in Freetown that there would be “no Christmas and New Year celebrations this year.”
“We will ensure that everybody remains at home to reflect on Ebola,” he said.
“Military personnel will be on the streets at Christmas and the New Year to stop any street celebrations,” he said, without giving the exact dates of the restrictions or saying which areas would be patrolled.
Bars and nightspots have been shut down and public gatherings outlawed under current emergency regulations, but there is no general ban on going outdoors or working.
During previous local and nationwide anti-Ebola curfews, people were allowed out for “essential business” and to worship.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there were 17,942 cases of Ebola across eight countries as of December 7, resulting in 6,388 deaths – almost all in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Sierra Leone has recorded 1,319 new infections in the last three weeks, 397 of them during the week ending December 7, which was three times as many as in Liberia and Guinea combined, WHO said.
One-third of the new cases in Sierra Leone were reported in the capital Freetown at the heart of the current surge in cases.
The country has already quarantined around half its population of six million, sealing off districts across the country in a bid to halt the spread of the killer virus.
A two-week lockdown was imposed on the eastern diamond mining district of Kono last week after eight Ebola cases were confirmed in a single day.
Over an 11-day period, two WHO teams buried 87 victims, including a nurse and an ambulance driver reportedly enlisted to help dispose of corpses piling up in a local hospital, according to the agency.
Olu Olushayo, the WHO’s national Ebola coordinator, said doctors and nurses were “at their wits end.”