A three-day curfew aimed at containing the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone has been declared a success by authorities.
The wide-ranging curfew ended at midnight on Sunday (GMT) and will not be extended, authorities said.
Sierra Leone has been one of the countries worst affected by the outbreaks, with more than 550 victims among the 2,600 deaths so far recorded.
Meanwhile, neighbouring Liberia announced a four-fold increase in the number of beds for Ebola patients.
Liberia is the country worst-hit by the epidemic, accounting for more than half the number of total deaths.
The head of Sierra Leone’s Emergency Operations Centre Stephen Gaojia told the BBC that the exercise was largely successful, and that the compliance and receptiveness of Sierra Leoneans was “overwhelming”.
“We were able to discover quite a lot of people who have been infected… the numbers are not available as of today but I can assure you that we already have a little over 150 people who willingly reported to the nearest holding or isolation centre to be tested,” he said.
In the capital Freetown, residents emerged from their houses to celebrate in the streets just before the official end of the lockdown.
The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is the worst ever, the World Health Organization (WHO) says. The deadly virus is transmitted through sweat, blood and saliva, and there is no proven cure.
The curfew in Sierra Leone came into force on Friday morning, with most of the country’s six million inhabitants confined to their homes.
Around 30,000 medical volunteers travelled to affected neighbourhoods to find and treat patients and distribute soap.
Deputy Chief Medical Officer Sarian Kamara said authorities had managed to discover 22 new cases of the virus during the curfew.
“Had they not been discovered, they would have greatly increased transmission,” he said.
He also said between 60 and 70 Ebola victims had been buried in the past two days. Bodies of Ebola victims are highly contagious and their swift burial is considered key to containing the disease.
The three-day curfew is the most aggressive measure taken against the virus yet by a West African country.
Meanwhile, a Spanish Catholic priest was evacuated from Sierra Leone on Sunday after contracting the virus.
A military plane carrying Manuel Garcia Viejo took off from the capital Freetown on Sunday evening and is due to land in Madrid in the early hours of Monday.
Last month another Spanish priest died after contracting the virus in neighbouring Liberia.
In a separate development on Sunday, Liberia said it would increase from 250 to 1,000 its beds for Ebola patients in the capital Monrovia.
Information Minister Lewis Brown told AFP news agency that patients were currently being rejected due to lack of space.
“So the government is trying its best to finish the 1,000 beds so we can accommodate all the patients,” he added.
It follows a warning from the WHO about a huge expected spike in infections in Liberia.
School closure plea
In Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, a teachers union called on the government to delay the start of the school term because of the outbreak.
Pupils are due to return to school on Monday after an extended summer break, but the National Union of Teachers said that adequate safety measures were not yet in place.
President Goodluck Jonathan dismissed the call for a postponement. Eight people have died in Nigeria out of 20 who have contracted the disease, but no new cases have been discovered for 10 days.
Ebola virus disease (EVD)
- Symptoms include high fever, bleeding and central nervous system damage
- Spread by body fluids, such as blood and saliva
- 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