02:22 - Source: CNN
Sierra Leone plans Ebola lockdown

Story highlights

No one will be allowed to leave their homes for three days

Volunteers will go door-to-door educating people on the dangers of the virus

Aid group warns the lockdown will drive people "underground"

CNN —  

Sierra Leone plans a three-day nationwide lockdown in an effort to halt an Ebola outbreak that has killed hundreds, a move that a leading medical charity said Saturday will not help.

People will not be allowed to leave their homes for three days under the plan, set to start September 19. The lockdown is being billed as a predominantly social campaign rather than a medical one, in which volunteers will go door-to-door to talk to people.

“We believe this the best way for now to identify those who are sick and remove them from those who are well,” said Alhaji Alpha Kanu, Sierra Leone’s minister of information and communication.

“We believe this is the best way for now to identify those who are sick and remove them from those who are well,” said Alhaji Alpha Kanu, the nation’s minister of information.

But Médecins Sans Frontières, also known as Doctors Without Borders, said such a lockdown is unlikely to stop the spread of the disease.

“Large scale coercive measures like forced quarantines and lockdowns are driving people underground and jeopardizing the trust between people and health providers. This is leading to the concealment of cases and is pushing the sick away from health systems,” the charity group said in a statement.

Dr. David Nabarro, who is leading the United Nations effort to fight Ebola, said the description of the situation as a “lockdown” was missing the point of the strategy.

“Unfortunately, it was described as a lockdown, I think, by accident in the first description and that term has stayed there,” Nabarro said. “But it’s actually not a lockdown. It’s a sensitization, house-to-house as they call it, which is used quite often for other issues.”

He said he talked to the President of Sierra Leone, who explained his strategy to him.

“He wants communities throughout the country to have a better understanding of the disease, to understand its causes, and also to understand how it’s transmitted so they can start to take ownership and take action themselves to reduce the spread and also to insure when people are infected or suspected of infection that they can be taken to places where they can receive care.”

It’s not the first time a quarantine or lockdown has been tried. In August, the Liberian government locked down one of the poorest neighborhoods in the capital of Monrovia in an attempt to stop the spread of the virus. The move resulted in riots.

21,000 volunteers to go door-to-door

Training volunteers

Sierra Leone set the lockdown date for September 19-21 to give the country time to train volunteers and get needed equipment, such as ambulances, Kanu said.

During the lockdown, 21,000 volunteers will fan out across the nation to talk with people about how to protect themselves from the disease, as well as identify Ebola cases, Kanu said.

It was unclear how many of these volunteers would be health workers. The information minister described the volunteers as young people from the very communities where they will be working.

“Resistance will be less. They will be talking to people they know,” Kanu said.

He did not say what punishment, if any, people would face for violating the lockdown.

“It will be extremely difficult for health workers to accurately identify cases through door-to-door screenings as this requires a certain level of expertise,” the group said. “And when cases are identified, there will not be enough Ebola management centers to care for them.”

“It will be extremely difficult for health workers to accurately identify cases through door-to-door screenings as this requires a certain level of expertise,” the group said. “And when cases are identified, there will not be enough Ebola management centers to care for them.”

In a related incident, youth around Matainkay in Waterloo, 18 miles outside Freetown, attempted to disrupt the burial of corpses of Ebola victims, according to the local member of Parliament for the area, Claude Kamanda, and the police local unit commander, Mustapha Kamara.

The police chief said he sent troop reinforcements to ward off the attackers. He described them as youths in the village.

What you need to know

Number of cases on the rise

Also, there is a question of what a three-day lockdown will do to slow the spread of the virus, given that the Ebola incubation period can range between two and 21 days.

The virus is spread through contact with bodily fluids, and early symptoms include sudden onset of fever, weakness, muscle pain, headaches and a sore throat.

The outbreak has been centered in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, with a handful of cases in Nigeria. The overall fatality rate is 50%, WHO said, ranging from 39% in Sierra Leone to 64% in Guinea, according to the latest figures.

The virus is named after the Ebola River in the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire), where one of the first outbreaks occurred in 1976. The same year there was another outbreak in Sudan.

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CNN’s Poppy Harlow and Margot Haddad contributed to this report.