FREETOWN (AFP) – Sierra Leone authorities imposed a two-week lockdown on the eastern diamond mining district of Kono Wednesday after eight cases of Ebola were confirmed in one day.
According to Sierra Leone’s health ministry, Tuesday’s spate of Ebola reports increased the cumulative total of confirmed cases in the region to 119.
The lockdown will limit residents’ movements until December 23.
Sierra Leone, along with Guinean and Liberia, is at the epicentre of the worst Ebola outbreak on record. The virus has claimed over 6,300 lives in west Africa over the past year, including more than 1,700 in Sierra Leone.
Officials from the World Health Organization (WHO) and US Center for Disease Control have been assisting Sierra Leone’s National Ebola Response Center to prevent the virus from spreading throughout Kono and its population of 350,000.
“Our team met heroic doctors and nurses at their wits’ end, exhausted burial teams and lab techs, all doing the best they could but they simply ran out of resources and were overrun with gravely ill people,” said WHO’s national Ebola coordinator Olu Olushayo.
The decision to impose a lockdown was taken at a meeting of traditional rulers known as the Council of Paramount Chiefs, its chairman Paul Saquee told reporters.
“The decision is a follow-up to the high increase in positive Ebola cases that have engulfed the district,” Saquee said.
Although rapid reaction has helped contain the virus to about half of the 15 chiefdoms in Kono, WHO teams that arrived in the area 10 days ago were taken aback at the situation they encountered.
In the space of 11 days, two WHO teams buried 87 victims, including a nurse and an ambulance driver enlisted to help dispose of corpses piling up in the local hospital.
Doctor Amara Jambai, the Ministry of Health and Sanitation’s Director of Disease Prevention and Control, used a local saying to describe the dramatic surge in Kono’s Ebola cases.
“We are only seeing the ears of the hippo,” Jambai said.