Sierra Leone – will the new three day national restrictions bring an end to Ebola?

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 27 March 2015

Freetown falling apart - ebola lockdownIt is Friday and Muslims across the country will this afternoon be going to mosques for their weekly Jumma prayer, but today is no ordinary Friday.

Last Week, president Koroma announced another series of lockdown, starting today, 27th March and ending Sunday, 29th March, so as not to disrupt commercial and business life in the country.

But many people are unhappy about the restrictions which they see as impeding their freedom to worship. President Koroma says that the restrictions are necessary to achieve zero Ebola cases.

Muslims have been told that they must pray in their local mosques rather than travel outside of their communities, so as to meet the deadline for the 3.00pm curfew.

Most of this weekend’s restrictions are no different from the now well versed dos and don’ts – no touching, washing hands, no washing of dead bodies; call 117 if someone is showing signs or symptoms that are similar to Ebola, and stay indoors during the hours of curfew.

So what is this weekend’s lockdown all about; how is it different from previous lockdowns and what will it achieve?

In a live radio broadcast aired last week, president Koroma announced what he refers to as a National Zero Ebola Campaign. He said it is a four week campaign aimed at  driving Ebola out of Sierra Leone.

President Koroma called on all Sierra Leoneans to stay at home for three days, starting today 27th to 29th March, 2015, and again on the following three consecutive Saturdays – 4th April, 11th April and 18th April.

He said that “the campaign will provide an opportunity for communities to be directly involved in the drive to zero cases, to reflect and to pray for the eradication of this disease from our country, by working in partnership with health workers, surveillance officers and trained social mobilisers.”

Ebola lockdown2

The objectives of the campaign mentioned by the president are: “To inform communities about the behaviours that continue to drive the EVD transmission in their own communities; encourage behaviours which can prevent transmission, such as regular hand washing with soap and water; and
find, isolate and treat Ebola cases through targeted door-to-door surveillance and contact tracing.”

But the question president Koroma failed to answer is; how communities will participate in partnership with health workers, when they have been told to stay indoors?

He said that the following restrictions will apply throughout the four weeks national campaign: “All citizens to stay at home from 6am on Friday 27 March until 6pm on Sunday 29th March and from 6am to 6pm on the three consecutive Saturdays, 4th April, 11th April and 18th April; no trading activities across the country during those times; and no restaurants, bars and activities around the beaches during those times.”

“In recognition that Sunday 29th March is Palm Sunday, which is a major festival in the global Christian calendar, church services will be permitted and the stay at home restriction will be lifted from 7am to 2pm. Churchgoers must be at home by 2pm. All other restrictions will remain in place during this time,” said the president.

Ebola lockdown day2But these restrictions do not apply to essential services and key workers. In this regard, the president said that, “there will be provision for movement of health workers at public and private health facilities; staff and volunteers involved with the campaign and the Ebola response; security apparatus and private security companies; utility workers of Guma Valley Water Company, SALWACO and the National Power Authority (NPA); fuel station workers; local and international journalists; arriving and departing passengers to and from Lungi Airport; and limited commercial vehicles to convey churchgoers to Palm Sunday services.”

Emphasising the importance of these restrictions and the need to bring Ebola to an end in Sierra Leone, president Koroma said this:  “The economic development of our country and the lives of our people continue to be threatened by the ongoing presence of Ebola in Sierra Leone.

“The future of our country and the aspirations of our children are at stake. I call upon our religious leaders, civil society groups and every man, woman and child in Sierra Leone, to wholeheartedly support the “Zero Ebola” Campaign and to join with me in Getting to and Staying at Zero Ebola Infections.”

But critics say that they are unclear as to the precise objectives of this new wave of lockdowns. Last September there was a similar three day controversial lockdown, which resulted in hundreds of thousands of homes visited by anti-Ebola campaigners and health workers, aimed at sensitising communities about the virus.

Opinions about the success of that lockdown were mixed. But what was obvious was that for the three months ending September to December 2014, the number of new cases rose exponentially and so too did the number of people killed by Ebola.

Most of the eleven doctors, who have lost their lives to Ebola – died post September lockdown. The government reported that 59 dead bodies were uncovered during that lockdown across the country.

Today, over 3,500 people have been killed by the virus, with a cumulative total of 8,500 new cases.

But the virus is presently entrenched in four districts, including the capital Freetown – Bombali, Port Loko, and Kambia, homes to the president and the country’s information minister.

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