Liberia’s president has closed all but three land border crossings, restricted public gatherings and quarantined communities heavily affected by the Ebola outbreak in the West African nation.
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf described the measures late Sunday after the first meeting of a new taskforce she created and is chairing to contain the disease, which has killed 129 people in the country and more than 670 across the region.
There is no known cure for Ebola, which begins with symptoms including fever and sore throat and escalates to vomiting, diarrhea and internal bleeding. The disease spreads through direct contact with blood and other bodily fluids as well as indirect contact with “environments contaminated with such fluids,” according to the World Health Organization.
A top Liberian doctor working at Liberia’s largest hospital died Saturday, and two American aid workers in the country have fallen ill, underscoring the dangers facing those charged with bringing the outbreak under control.
On Friday, a Liberian official flew to Nigeria via Lome, Togo, and died of the disease at a Lagos hospital after collapsing in the megacity’s airport. The fact that the official, Patrick Sawyer, was able to board an international flight despite being ill raised fears that the disease could spread beyond the three countries already affected — Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.
The Lagos airport is in one of the most crowded parts of a city that is home to 21 million people.
“We have shut the hospital to enable us to properly quarantine the environment. Some of the hospital staff who were in close contact with the victim have been isolated,” Lagos state health commissioner Jide Idris told Nigerian TV. The hospital will be shut for a week and all staff monitored to ensure the virus has not spread, he added.
Nigeria’s airports, seaports and land borders have been on “red alert” since Friday. Adding to the risks, Nigerian doctors are on strike over conditions and pay. Chairman of the Nigerian Medical Association Tope Ojo was quoted in local media Saturday saying the strike would not be called off despite the Ebola threat.
President Sirleaf said all borders would be closed except for three — one of which crosses into Sierra Leone, one that crosses into Guinea and another that crosses into both.
Experts believe the outbreak originated in southeast Guinea as far back as January, though the first cases weren’t confirmed until March. That country has recorded the most deaths, with 319. Sierra Leone has recorded more of the recent cases, however, and has seen 224 deaths in total.
Liberia will keep open Roberts International Airport outside Monrovia and James Spriggs Payne Airport, which is in the city.
Sirleaf said “preventive and testing centers will be established” at the airports and open border crossings, and that “stringent preventive measures to be announced will be scrupulously adhered to.”
Other measures include restricting demonstrations and marches and requiring restaurants and other public venues to screen a five-minute film on Ebola.
Sirleaf also empowered the security forces to commandeer vehicles to aid in the public health response and ordered them to enforce the new regulations.