Public Christmas and New Year’s gatherings have been banned by government officials in Sierra Leone, in an attempt to halt the deadly Ebola virus from spreading in a country that’s already been ravaged by the disease.
Palo Conteh, who heads the country’s Ebola response unit, made the announcement in Freetown on Friday, adding that military personnel would patrol the streets on Christmas and New Year’s Day to make sure people stayed at home.
"We will ensure that everybody remains at home to reflect on Ebola," said Conteh, adding that people needed to change their behavior or they would continue to die.
While the majority of Sierra Leone’s population is Muslim, about 10 percent are Christians, according to the CIA World Factbook, and holiday celebrations are common.
The ban on holiday celebrations is just one of the steps the government is taking to help curb spread of the disease. Bars and nightspots had already been shuttered under current emergency regulations, and public gatherings outlawed. Schools have also been closed. People are allowed to leave their homes for worship and “essential business.” Certain districts of the country have been sealed off, comprising about half the country’s 6 million population.
President Ernest Bai Koroma also urged tribal leaders to halt traditional practices to keep the disease at bay, reports Sierra Leone news site Awoko. He said that, despite aid from the international community, cases seemed to be increasing.
The government also issued a two-week lockdown on the remote diamond mining district of Kono on Wednesday, after eight cases of Ebola were confirmed there in just one day. In the five days before World Health Organization workers arrived in Kono to fight the spread of the disease, 25 people died, reports the Los Angeles Times.
There have been almost 18,000 reported cases of Ebola and 6,388 deaths throughout the West African countries of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone since the outbreak started about a year ago, reports the World Health Organization.
But Sierra Leone has overtaken Liberia in recent days as the country hardest hit by the epidemic, with 7,897 reported cases to date. According to WHO, the country reported 397 new cases for the week ending Dec. 7 -- almost three times as many as Liberia and Guinea combined.