AFRICANGLOBE – Soldiers on the streets will make sure there is no Christmas cheer in Sierra Leone this year, as the Ebola virus continues to be a threat throughout the country.
“There will be no Christmas and New Year celebrations this year,” said Palo Conteh, a former soldier who is the country’s Defence minister and also the head of its Ebola response team.
“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.”
Sierra Leone has been in a state of emergency since July, which prohibits public gatherings. But Mr Conteh said the residents of the Western Area, or Freetown Peninsula, needed to strictly observe the rules or the virus would continue to kill.
More than a quarter of Sierra Leone’s six million people are Christian, but the festive season also cuts across religions, with masquerade processions across the country throughout December.
However, this year’s Christmas advertisements have been replaced by public service announcements and businesses are struggling.
“It is hard to have a Merry Christmas when you’ve lost loved ones, and are preoccupied with staying alive; when there’s nowhere you can go to drink and be merry, and the very act of doing so seems out of place,” wrote Agnes Bangali, who works for the United Nations Population Fund in Sierra Leone.
“Having a Merry Christmas is not really the priority right now; keeping our people alive to see many more Christmases is. Ebola stole this Christmas; all we can do now is make sure that this never happens again,” she added.
Mr. Conteh did not say when the ban on Christmas would begin, or whether there would be any exceptions. In previous anti-Ebola curfews, residents have been allowed to leave their homes to worship and for “essential business”.
Schools, bars and nightclubs have already been shut down, but there is no general ban at the moment on walking outdoors or working.
Meanwhile Ernest Bai Koroma, the president, told community leaders to stop any rituals that might risk spreading the virus further. “The illness started at the border and now it is in the city and close to two thousand people have died from the outbreak,” he said, adding that the number of cases appears to be increasing, particularly in the Western Area.
Sierra Leone has now overtaken Liberia to be the country worst affected by the killer virus, after recording 1,319 new infections in the last three weeks. By Friday, the current outbreak had claimed 6,583 lives in total, mainly in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.
The country’s response has been hit by strikes by healthcare workers over pay and conditions. The Junior Doctors’ Association went on strike again this week, demanding a special clinic to treat doctors, ten of whom have died since the outbreak began. The government has now promised to open a clinic for them this month.
Until recently, the spread of the virus in Sierra Leone was focused on the area around the capital, Freetown. However, the World Health Organisation said this week that it had found 87 bodies piled up at the only hospital in Kono, a district of 350,000 people next to the border with Guinea. The district has since been put under curfew.
By: Malcolm Moore