Liberia’s Ebola clampdown turns violent; toll hits 1,350

August 21, 2014 - 12:28:53 am

MONROVIA: Police in the Liberian capital Monrovia fired live rounds and teargas on Wednesday to disperse a stone-throwing crowd trying to break an Ebola quarantine imposed on their neighbourhood, as the death toll from the epidemic in West Africa hit 1,350.

In the West Point neighbourhood of Monrovia, at least four people were injured in clashes with security forces. “The soldiers are using live rounds,” said army spokesman Dessaline Allison. The World Health Organisation said that countries hit by the worst ever outbreak of the deadly virus were beginning to suffer shortages of fuel, food and basic supplies after shipping companies and airlines suspended services to the region.

The epidemic of the hemorrhagic fever, which can kill up to 90 percent of those it infects, is ravaging the three small West African states of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, and also has a toehold in Nigeria, Africa’s biggest economy.

Liberia said its Ministry of Health warehouse had run out of rubber boots and hand sanitiser bottles, essential for preventing the spread of the disease. Liberia recorded 95 deaths in the two days to August 18, the WHO said. Since it was discovered in remote southeastern Guinea in March, the overall death toll from the outbreak has reached 1,350 from a total of 2,473 cases.

Liberian authorities introduced a nationwide curfew and put the teeming West Point neighbourhood under quarantine to curb the spread of the disease. Witnesses said clashes started after security forces blocked roads to West Point early yesterday with tables, chairs and barbed wire. Security forces came in to escort the local commissioner out of the neighbourhood, they said.

“I don’t have any food and we’re scared,” said Alpha Barry, a resident of West Point who said he came from Guinea and had four children under 13. The World Food Programme has begun emergency food deliveries to quarantined zones where 1 million people may be at risk of shortages. 

The Ebola outbreak is putting off thousands of tourists who had planned trips to Africa this year. Containing the outbreak requires large numbers of specialist staff to map the epidemic, track people who have had contact with sufferers, and to work in isolation and treatment centres. The WHO has pledged to massively scale up the international response, but so far there has been only a trickle of additional foreign healthcare workers to affected nations.