March 27, 2015 / 11:03 AM / 5 years ago

Sierra Leone capital 'eerily quiet' amid Ebola lockdown

FREETOWN (Reuters) - The capital of Sierra Leone was “eerily quiet” on Friday at the start of a three-day national lockdown aimed at accelerating the end of an Ebola epidemic in the worst affected country.

Health workers push a wheeled stretcher holding a newly admitted Ebola patient, 16-year-old Amadou, in to the Save the Children Kerry town Ebola treatment centre outside Freetown, Sierra Leone, December 22, 2014. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

Hundreds of health volunteers fanned out across the capital on Friday — one of the last remaining hotspots — looking for hidden Ebola patients and raising awareness about the epidemic in the country’s second lockdown.

Sierra Leone has reported nearly 12,000 cases and more than 3,000 deaths since the epidemic was declared a year ago.

New case numbers have tumbled from a peak of over 500 per week in December to 33 in the week to March 22, with most in the capital and near the northern border with Guinea, which is also still fighting the outbreak.

Liberia has just one known case left and the three countries have set a target to get to zero cases by mid-April.

“What we want to achieve is to re-engage our communities, re-energize them, pump more oxygen into this fight because we have been doing it for the last 10 months so people are getting tired, and there is a bit of complacency,” the head of the National Ebola response center, Palo Conteh, told Reuters.

In an indication that residents were cooperating with the campaign, Red Cross emergency health coordinator John Fleming said the streets of the capital’s normally bustling Aberdeen fishing community were “eerily quiet” on Friday morning.

“There’s nobody in the street,” he said from a site overlooking the city’s slums.

Officials hailed a previous lockdown in September as a success, helping to identify more than 100 new cases, although some charities criticized the campaign as being heavy-handed.

Riots broke out in a poor quarantined neighborhood of Liberia’s capital Monrovia and a teenaged boy was killed. Sierra Leone’s National Ebola Response Center has said that residents will be allowed out for Friday prayers and for Sunday church services.

Additional reporting and writing by Emma Farge; Editing by Ralph Boulton

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