Ebola 'still spreading' as cases top 20,000 at year's end
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The Ebola virus is still spreading in West Africa and notably in Sierra Leone, the World Health Organization warned on Wednesday, adding that the death toll from the epidemic at year's end stood at 7,905 out of 20,206 cases.
Sierra Leone earlier this month banned public Christmas celebrations as the caseload of Ebola infections continued to spread alarm. Soldiers were deployed to force people who ventured onto the streets back indoors.
"We will ensure that everybody remains at home to reflect on Ebola," said Palo Conteh, head of the country's Ebola response department, in comments to reporters.
While Islam is the dominant religion in Sierra Leone, more than a quarter of the population is Christian and public gatherings are common throughout the holiday period.
Liberia suspends restrictions
Ebola-ravaged Liberia lifted a nighttime curfew that had been in place since August to allow for New Year's Eve services to take place on Wednesday night.
Justice Minister Benedict F. Sannoh said in a statement that he was acting on the orders of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
"In an effort to enable churches and religious groups around the country to conduct traditional worship services on the eve of the New Year, I am pleased to announce... that curfew for Wednesday night... is hereby suspended," Sannoh said in a statement.
"All churches and religious organisations conducting worship services on New Year Eve are advised to abide by all existing Ebola preventive protocols as well as the regulations issued by the minister of health," the statement said.
Liberia imposed a night curfew and a state of emergency on August 6. Curfew hours were initially from 9pm to 6am but have now been scaled back to start at midnight.
The virus, which causes vomiting, diarrhoea and bleeding, is spread by contact with bodily fluids. It has no known cure.
The latest epidemic, the worst ever recorded, has so far killed more than 3,400 people in Liberia and at least 4,400 more in Sierra Leone and Guinea, according to the WHO.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)