Frustrated residents complained of food shortages in some neighborhoods of Sierra Leone’s capital on Sunday as the country reached the third and final day of a sweeping, unprecedented lockdown designed to combat the deadly Ebola disease, volunteers said.
While most residents welcomed teams of health care workers and volunteers bearing information about the disease, rumors persisted in pockets of the city that poisoned soap was being distributed, suggesting that public education campaigns had not been entirely successful.
The streets of the capital, Freetown, were again mostly deserted on Sunday in compliance with a government order for the country’s 6 million residents to stay in their homes.
Spread by contact with bodily fluids, Ebola has killed more than 560 people in Sierra Leone and more than 2,600 across West Africa in the biggest outbreak ever recorded, according to the World Health Organization. The disease, which has also touched Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Senegal, is believed to have sickened more than 5,500 people.
Sierra Leone’s government was hoping the lockdown — the most aggressive containment effort yet attempted — would turn the tide against the disease. There were rumors in Freetown on Sunday that officials would opt to extend the lockdown, but a Health Ministry statement issued Sunday night confirmed it had ended.
The statement said that 75 percent of the targeted 1.5 million households had been contacted by outreach teams, and that outreach would continue in “hot spots” around the country.
Health care workers had taken advantage of the lockdown to bury 71 dead bodies by Sunday morning, Health Ministry official Dr. Sarian Kamara said on a radio program. The bodies of dead Ebola victims are highly contagious, making safe burials essential to stopping the spread of the disease.
Sundays are usually quiet for residents in Sierra Leone, who go to church or stay at home with many businesses and restaurants closed.
In the city center, despite police efforts to encourage people to stay inside their homes, most families sat on their verandas chatting as radios blared through the streets. People were urged to stay tuned to their radios and televisions for public information on the lockdown.
The National Power Authority also provided uninterrupted electricity during the lockdown, so people didn’t have to rely on generators.
In Bonga Town, a shantytown community near the national stadium in Freetown, some residents were upset that handouts of rice were distributed only to certain families, said Samuel Turay, a 21-year-old volunteer.
The community often serves as a way station for rural Sierra Leoneans trying to relocate to the capital, and many homes are makeshift and dilapidated, with heavy rocks holding down zinc roofs so they don’t blow away with the wind.
“They expected, when they saw us, that we were coming with food, but unfortunately we are just coming to talk to them. So they were not so happy about it,” Turay said.
The city’s poorer residents generally use the money they earn each day to buy food, making planning for a three-day lockdown impossible, said Miatta Rogers, a mother living in the west of Freetown.
“Things are not going smooth right now. Everyone is not happy,” she said. “When the government makes a ruling like this, then we all just have to abide by it, but it is not very easy.”