A three-day curfew or lockdown to try to stop the spread of the Ebola virus has come into effect in Sierra Leone.
The aim of the move is to keep people confined to their homes while health workers isolate new cases and prevent Ebola from spreading further.
Critics say the lockdown will destroy trust between doctors and the public.
Sierra Leona is one of the countries worst hit by West Africa’s Ebola outbreak, which has killed more than 2,600 people.
The UN Security Council on Thursday declared the outbreak a “threat to international peace and security”.
The Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution calling on states to provide more resources to combat it.
The BBC’s Umaru Fofana in Sierra Leone
Even the heavy downpour that deluged Freetown since dawn on Thursday did not stop thousands of people from rushing to supermarkets and vegetable markets to stock up on food ahead of the lockdown declared by the president.
The government hopes this drastic action will prove to be the magic bullet in the battle to stop the spread of Ebola, which has hit 13 of the country’s 14 districts, killing more than 500 people.
A supermarket attendant in the west of Freetown told me she that she has had to restock her shelves five times in two days – a mark of the brisk buying that’s going on by those who can afford it.
“I’m here to get some food and beverages for my family that will last us the whole weekend,” Christian Thomas told the BBC. “I’ve also bought dozens of litres of fuel for my generator should the lights go out as is so often the case,” he said.
In the poor eastern suburb of Calaba Town survival is on the minds of many. Customers and traders alike wondered how they would manage to pull it off.
The medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has been strongly critical of the lockdown, arguing that ultimately it will help spread the disease.
MSF, whose staff are helping to tackle the outbreak, said in a statement this month that quarantines and lockdowns “end up driving people underground and jeopardising the trust between people and health providers”.
“This leads to the concealment of potential cases and ends up spreading the disease further.”
But the authorities insist that the measure “will minimise the spread of the virus”, and that thousands of officials would be deployed to make sure residents stayed indoors.
Volunteers will go door-to-door to test people for the virus and take infected people to treatment centres.
Health ministry spokesman Sidie Yahya Tunis told the BBC this month he did not expect the public to object.
“You follow or else you’ll be breaking the law. If you disobey then you are disobeying the president,” he said.
The disease infects humans through close contact with infected animals, including chimpanzees, fruit bats and forest antelope.
It then spreads between humans by direct contact with infected blood, bodily fluids or organs, or indirectly through contact with contaminated environments.
Ebola virus disease (EVD)
- Symptoms include high fever, bleeding and central nervous system damage
- Spread by body fluids, such as blood and saliva
- Fatality rate can reach 90% – but current outbreak has mortality rate of about 55%
- Incubation period is two to 21 days
- There is no proven vaccine or cure
- Supportive care such as rehydrating patients who have diarrhoea and vomiting can help recovery
- Fruit bats, a delicacy for some West Africans, are considered to be virus’s natural host