MONROVIA, Liberia (AP) — Security forces blocked off a seaside slum in Liberia’s capital Wednesday, stepping up the government’s fight to stop the spread of Ebola, unnerving residents and reportedly sparking a protest.
In central Monrovia there were few cars or people about as nervous residents stayed inside after President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf ordered West Point sealed off and imposed a nighttime curfew, saying that authorities have not been able to curtail the spread of Ebola in the face of defiance of their recommendations.
Sirleaf also ordered gathering places like movie theaters and night clubs shut and put Dolo Town, 30 miles (50 kilometers) south of the capital, under quarantine as well.
“These measures are meant to save lives,” she said in an address Tuesday night.
Ebola has killed at least 1,229 of the more than 2,200 people it has sickened in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria in the outbreak, according to World Health Organizations figures. Liberia has the highest death toll and its number of cases is rising the fastest.
Fear and tension are running high in the capital, especially in places like West Point where there is substantial mistrust of authority. Dead bodies are dumped daily in the streets by relatives who fear infection. Fearful residents call a government hotline to ask that they be removed, but they sometimes remain outside for hours or days.
On Wednesday, riot police and soldiers deployed to block anyone from entering or leaving West Point, which occupies a peninsula where the Mesurado River meets the Atlantic Ocean. Few roads go into the area, and major road runs along the base of the peninsula, serving as a barrier between the neighborhood and the rest of Monrovia. A coast guard boat was also patrolling the waters around the kilometer (.6 mile)-long peninsula.
A woman who called into a local radio station’s breakfast program said she was blocked in traffic because there was a protest in West Point by disgruntled youths opposed to the quarantine.
Residents of the slum looted an Ebola screening center over the weekend, accusing the government of bringing sick people from all over the city to their neighborhood.
While Sirleaf blamed the disease’s continued spread on people who have hidden the sick or defied orders against touching dead bodies, many Liberians feel their government isn’t doing enough to protect them from the dreaded disease.
One resident, Richard Kieh, told The Associated Press by phone that the community was in “disarray” following the arrival of forces on Wednesday morning.
“Prices of things have been doubled here,” he said.
The current outbreak is currently the most severe in Liberia and Sierra Leone, but the U.N. health agency said that there were encouraging signs that the tide was beginning to turn in Guinea. There is also hope that Nigeria has managed to contain the disease to only a few cases
Nigeria’s health minister, Onyebuchi Chukwu, said Tuesday that a fifth person had died of the disease in that country. All of Nigeria’s reported cases so far have been people who had direct contact with a Liberian-American man who was already infected when he arrived in the country on an airliner.
Associated Press writer Maram Mazen in Lagos, Nigeria, contributed to this report.