Sierra Leone looked like a ghost town on Friday as the country began a three-day lockdown, forbidding people to leave their homes in a bid to halt the deadly Ebola epidemic.
Streets across the normally chaotic capital Freetown, a bustling city of 1.2 million people, emptied from midnight and by dawn on Friday the rare echo of rain on tin roofs and the rumble of thunder had replaced the usual blare of motorbike horns and the din of market stall music.
“Everyone seems to be complying and this is very good. This is an important way to fight Ebola. We expect everyone to stay at home,” Freetown police chief Francis Munu said.
Shops and offices were shut across the city, and only emergency vehicles plied streets which are normally jammed with traffic throughout the day.
Mr Munu said his officers, covering the day in two shifts of 12 hours, were accompanying burial teams picking up bodies around the city and were prepared to protect them if they encountered resistance.
“Ose to Ose Ebola Tok” – “House-to-House Ebola Talk” in the widely-spoken Krio language — will see more than 7000 volunteer teams of four visiting the country’s 1.5 million homes over the coming days.
The population of six million has been told to stay indoors for 72 hours except for essential business, with only emergency services, security forces and other key workers exempt.
Almost 30,000 volunteers will go door-to-door to educate locals and hand out soap, in an exercise that could lead to scores more patients and bodies being discovered in people’s homes.
Ebola fever can fell its victims within days, causing severe muscle pain, vomiting, diarrhoea and — in some cases — unstoppable internal and external bleeding.
More than 550 people have died from the disease in Sierra Leone alone, one of the three hardest-hit nations alongside Guinea and Liberia. [AFP]