FREETOWN, Sept 20 — Sierra Leone’s normally chaotic capital was transformed on Friday as residents were confined to their homes for the start of a three-day lockdown aimed at halting the deadly Ebola epidemic.

Streets across Freetown, a bustling city of 1.2 million people, emptied from midnight and by dawn the rare echo of rain on tin roofs and the rumble of thunder had replaced the usual blare of motorbike horns and the din of market stall music.

“Everyone seems to be complying and this is very good. This is an important way to fight Ebola. We expect everyone to stay at home,” Freetown police chief Francis Munu told AFP.

Shops and offices were shut across the city, and only emergency vehicles plied streets which are normally jammed with traffic throughout the day.

Munu said his officers, covering the day in two shifts of 12 hours, were accompanying burial teams picking up bodies around the city and were prepared to protect them if they encountered resistance.

“Ose to Ose Ebola Tok” — “House-to-House Ebola Talk” in the widely-spoken Krio language — will see more than 7,000 volunteer teams of four visiting the country’s 1.5 million homes over the coming days.

The population of six million has been told to stay indoors from midnight (0000 GMT) for 72 hours except for essential business, with only emergency services, security forces and other key workers exempt.

Almost 30,000 volunteers will go door-to-door to educate locals and hand out soap, in an exercise that could lead to scores more patients and bodies being discovered in people’s homes.

More than 550 people have died from the disease in Sierra Leone alone, one of the three hardest-hit nations alongside Guinea and Liberia.

The government has said the volunteers will not enter people’s homes but will call emergency services to deal with patients or bodies of which they become aware.

Steven Gaojia, who is coordinating the shutdown, told reporters 258 extra beds had been set up in makeshift treatment centres across Freetown in anticipation of the campaign uncovering dead bodies and new cases in people’s homes.

“Six ambulances are now on standby. We have some 89 vehicles from humanitarian agencies while the Commercial Bikers Association has (offered) for our use some 382 motorcycles.”


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