FREETOWN (Reuters) - Sierra Leone's President Ernest Bai Koroma on Thursday removed Ebola district quarantine measures intended to curb the spread of the disease, declaring "victory is in sight" after a sharp drop in transmission.
Since the worst outbreak on record began in West Africa over a year ago, Sierra Leone has recorded more than 10,340 cases, making it the country that has been hardest hit. But signs are growing that the tide is turning against the disease.
"We are now entering a transition phase. Given the progress being made against the disease, we must take action to enable economic and social recovery," Koroma said in a televised address to the nation late on Thursday.
Quarantine measures were previously in place in six of 14 districts in the poor nation of farmers, fishermen and diamond miners.
Koroma, who aims to get to zero cases in the former British colony by the end of March, said that restrictions on trading hours in Freetown would also be eased.
Individual households with known Ebola contacts will remain under quarantine.
"Though victory is in sight, we must not relent, we must continue to soldier on," Koroma said, urging people to refrain from touching the sick and the dead. Ebola spreads via contact with bodily fluids of infected people such as blood and vomit.
In the latest health report on Jan. 21, Sierra Leone reported just 9 new confirmed cases versus 60 cases daily in late 2014. Neighboring Liberia has also reported significant progress in rolling back Ebola, thanks partly to U.S. military assistance, and it is now confined to just two counties.
But in a setback on Thursday, the mayor of Paynesville in the capital Monrovia said that 25 people had been placed under quarantine following a new confirmed case.
Guinea, where the outbreak first began 13 months ago, is still battling the disease although case numbers are thought to have stabilized.
Reporting by Umaru Fofana; Additional reporting by James in Monrovia and James Harding Giahyue in Liberia; Writing by Emma Farge; Editing by Bernard Orr