Liberia shuts schools as Ebola spreads

August 01, 2014 - 12:00:00 am
A Samaritan’s Purse team member hands out pamphlets to educate the public on the Ebola virus in Monrovia, Liberia, yesterday.

DAKAR: Liberia will close schools and consider quarantining some communities, it said yesterday, rolling out the toughest measures yet imposed by a West African government to halt the worst outbreak on record of the deadly Ebola virus.

“This is a major public health emergency. It’s fierce, deadly and many of our countrymen are dying and we need to act to stop the spread,” Lewis Brown, Liberia’s information minister, said. 

“We need the support of the international community now more than ever. We desperately need all the help we can get.”

Security forces in Liberia were ordered to enforce the action plan, which includes placing all non-essential government workers on 30-day compulsory leave.

Highly infectious Ebola has been blamed for 672 deaths in the West Africa nations of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, according to the World Health Organization. Liberia accounted for just under one-fifth of those deaths. The first cases of this outbreak were confirmed in Guinea’s remote southeast early this year. It then spread to the capital, Conakry, and into neighboring Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The fatality rate of the current outbreak is around 60 percent although the disease can kill up to 90 percent of those who catch it. The illness, called viral hemorrhagic fever, has symptoms that include external bleeding, massive internal bleeding, vomiting, and diarrhoea.

The US Peace Corps said on Wednesday it was temporarily withdrawing 340 volunteers from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea and that two of its volunteers had been isolated and were under observation after coming in contact with a person who later died of the Ebola virus.

The Peace Corp has 102 volunteers in Guinea, 108 in Liberia and 130 in Sierra Leone working in education, health and agriculture.

The State Department has confirmed that one US citizen died from Ebola in Nigeria after being infected in Liberia. Two other American aid workers infected with Ebola, Dr Kent Brantly and missionary Nancy Writebol, are in serious condition, but they have shown slight improvement. They were part of a team in Liberia from North Carolina-based Christian relief groups Samaritan’s Purse and SIM.

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said in a speech posted on the presidency’s website that the government was considering quarantining several communities based on the recommendation of the health ministry. http://www.emansion.gov.lr/

An earlier draft of the measures sent to Reuters specified communities to be quarantined.

“When these measures are instituted, only healthcare workers will be permitted to move in and out of those areas. Food and other medical support will be provided to those communities and affected individuals,” she said, adding that all markets in border areas are to be closed.

White House spokesman Eric Schultz told reporters that President Barack Obama had been briefed on Tuesday by his homeland security adviser, Lisa Monaco, and that the White House was monitoring the deadly outbreak.

“The CDC (US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) has said this is not a risk to the United States at this time,” Schultz told reporters traveling with the president back to Washington from Kansas City, Missouri. He said the US government had increased assistance to countries battling Ebola.

Schultz said the White House would proceed with a planned US-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington August 4 to 6 that about 50 Africa leaders are expected to attend to discuss trade and investment between the United States and Africa.

Liberia’s President Surleaf said she would not be attending the summit but that Vice President Joseph Nyuma Boakai and a few cabinet ministers “whose presence are absolutely necessary” would attend. “We have no plans to change any elements of the US-Africa Leaders Summit as we believe all air travel continues to be safe,” Schultz said.

Last week, 40-year-old Liberian-American Patrick Sawyer, a consultant for the Liberian finance ministry, died from Ebola in Nigeria after having traveled from Liberia. Authorities in Nigeria, as well as Ghana and Togo, through which he passed enroute to Lagos, are trying to trace passengers who were on the same plane as he was.

On Wednesday, Britain held a top-level government meeting to discuss the spread of Ebola in West Africa, saying the outbreak was a threat it needed to respond to. 

REUTERS

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