FREETOWN (AFP) – Millions of Sierra Leoneans emerged from their homes on Monday after a controversial nationwide lockdown during which scores of dead bodies and new cases of Ebola infections were uncovered.
The west African country had confined its six million people to their homes for 72 hours in a bid to stem a deadly outbreak which has claimed more than 2,600 lives there and in neighbouring Liberia and Guinea this year.
“We have an overflow of bodies which we still need to bury but this has been an everyday occurence since the Ebola outbreak… Now at least we have about 150 new cases,” Steven Gaojia, head of the country’s emergency operation centre, said late Sunday.
The country’s chief medical officer earlier said up to 70 bodies had been uncovered, but these were in and around the capital, and results for the whole country are likely to push up the figures significantly.
Only essential workers such as health professionals were exempt from the shutdown, and some 30,000 volunteers who went door-to-door to hand out soap and give advice on halting the contagion.
Independent observers have voiced concerns over the quality of advice being given out, deeming the shutdown a “mixed success” and complaining about the poor training of the door-to-door education teams.
Meanwhile aid organisations and medical experts questioned the feasibility of reaching 1.5 million households in three days and argued that confining people to their homes could erode trust between the government and the people.
But Health Minister Abubakarr Fofanah told AFP volunteers had managed to reach around 80 per cent of homes, deeming the action a success.
“We have learnt a lot from the campaign. Although this campaign has ended, there is a possibility we would have a similar one some other time,” he said.
“I cannot as of now give you statistics about the total corpses collected during the three-day period as we are now awaiting returns from other parts of the country and this will be made known as soon as the full report is compiled.”