FREETOWN, Dec 17 (Reuters) - Sierra Leone said it would start house-to-house searches for Ebola patients on Wednesday and impose internal travel restrictions as part of a new push to combat the epidemic.
Health workers will seek Ebola victims and anyone with whom they have had contact, transporting those infected to new British-built treatment centres, according to a government plan announced this week.
Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia are at the heart of the world's worst recorded outbreak of Ebola. Rates of infection are rising fastest in Sierra Leone and the country has more than half of the 18,000 confirmed cases of the virus.
President Ernest Bai Koroma said that under the measures, worshippers on Christmas Day must return home after services, and other festivities are banned. New Year's Eve services must stop by 5 p.m. local time (1700 GMT), while New Year's Day festivities are prohibited.
"This is the festive season where Sierra Leoneans often celebrate with families in a flamboyant and joyous manner, but all must be reminded that our country is at war with a vicious enemy," he said in a nationwide address.
The government was also imposing restrictions on travel between districts, a ban on Sunday trading and the end of Saturday shopping at noon, Koroma said.
The new measures are part of a month-long surge in and around the capital Freetown that aims to make a breakthrough against the disease within four to six weeks, the head of the British task-force Donal Brown said on Tuesday. (Reporting by Emma Farge and Umaru Fofana; Writing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg; Editing by Giles Elgood)