FREETOWN (AFP) – Sierra Leone warned on Friday it would jail entire families if Ebola victims who appeared to have been washed after death were discovered in their homes.
The tradition of cleansing the dead before burials remains a major factor in the spread of the highly infectious virus, the government said, despite numerous appeals for Sierra Leoneans to refrain from the practice.
“When the family calls (the burial hotline) and it is proved that the corpse has been tampered with, we are going to quarantine the entire family or take them to holding centres for 21 days,” said Palo Conteh, head of the government’s National Ebola Response Centre.
“If they are negative, they will be taken to prison for a certain period under the state of emergency. If they are positive, we will send them for treatment. If they die, that will be their fate. But if they survive, again they will be sent to prison.”
Conteh, speaking to reporters in Freetown, did not specify if children would be held criminally responsible, or what would happen to them if their parents were jailed.
The government says civil unrest and disobedience in parts of the country are making it impossible to beat the outbreak, which has already killed almost 1,600 people.
Conteh has appealed to Sierra Leoneans on several occasions to refrain from behaviour which might promote the spread of the virus but said people continue to break temporary laws aimed at curbing the epidemic.
“I am now ready to meet such people head-on with the law and by no means should we as a people allow the Ebola virus to live with us as a nation,” he said.
“Anyone found in violation of the law as far as burials, washing of corpses and keeping sick people in homes will be dealt with severely.”