The Sierra Leone Telegraph: 7 September 2014
President Koroma has ordered a complete lockdown of the country for a period of three days.
This decision by the president it is understood, is a necessary evil, in his desperation to kickstart a comprehensive programme of door to door Ebola disease control and crisis management.
Starting from 12.00am, Friday 19th September, 2014, everyone in the country will remain indoors, until 11.59pm on Sunday 21st September 2014.
Will it work, or is the government creating a rod for its own back?
This latest Ebola containment strategy may be new and radical, but draws its legality from the existing state of emergency approved by parliament last month.
It gives the president wide ranging powers, including curfews and the deployment of the military and police.
Last month’s declaration of state of emergency across the country, is still in force and requires citizens to stay indoors between the hours of 5.00pm and 5.00am, as part of efforts to control the spread of the virus.
At a meeting held at State House yesterday by the presidential Ebola Task Force, it was resolved that a national lockdown must be ordered, if Ebola must be defeated.
But there are doubts as to whether a three day lockdown will have any impact in controlling the virus.
Observers say that this new strategy is the brainchild of the new health minister designate, notwithstanding the negative economic and social consequences the lockdown is likely to have across the country.
But the government believes that with the three days lockdown, health workers will be able to conduct door to door investigation to check if there are patients with high temperature and other associated symptoms, being kept at home.
The new Public Health legislation, makes it unlawful for anyone to harbour patients showing signs and symptoms of Ebola.
Hence, the three day lockdown door to door search, will prove on the one hand to be a massive challenge for the authorities, as much for human rights groups, who must ensure the protection and safeguarding of individuals’ civil liberty.
What experiences of the current policy of search and snatch by the authorities have shown, is that the persistent breach of patients’ right to confidentiality and dignity, must be curtailed.
Far too many people in Sierra Leone, though suspected of the virus, or having made a full recovery, are now battling with the immense social stigma, caused by the negligence of those who should have respected and protected their confidentiality.
With the arrival of 48 metric tons of medicines and protective wear, sent to Sierra Leone by Unicef and the World Bank, it is understood that each household visited by the health workers during the three day lockdown, could receive a course of antibiotics and hand sanitisers to help stem the virus.
But sceptics are far from being convinced about the medical effectiveness of the lockdown.
Speaking under anonymity a senior Sierra Leonean doctor said: “A three day lockdown could be disastrous for those suffering from non-ebola conditions and are in need of emergency care, such as pregnancy, stroke, lung and heart disease, and children in need of paediatric care.
“I do hope the ministry of health knows what they are doing, otherwise not only will we be counting the number of those dead from Ebola, but the huge number that could be killed by the lockdown.”
A British virologist speaking to the BBC today, also expressed doubts about the rationale behind the three day lockdown.
He said that given the fact that it takes 21 days for the Ebola virus to incubate, a three day lockdown is unlikely to stop the spread of the virus.
Whilst the cost-effectiveness of the three day lockdown is being calculated ahead of the two weeks countdown, there are fears prices of basic household items will soar, as the rush to fill up the family pantry begins.
Last night, Freetown experienced its worst flooding due to heavy rains, closing major roads and markets.
And should this poor weather continue, the lockdown will certainly become the government’s worst possible nightmare, and a recipe for widespread civil unrest.
Has president Koroma created a rod for his own back?