Following threats by those who have been quarantined by the Liberian government weeks ago to demonstrate if they are not release from what they called ‘prison’, the government has finally conceded to lift ban on the movement of those being quarantined in West Point.
Late Friday evening in a radio news cast, the Liberian government announced that it would lift Ebola quarantine on a large slum here in the capital, 10 days after attempts to cordon off the neighborhood from the rest of the city sparked deadly clashes and fueled doubts about President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s ability to handle the outbreak.
Residents of the neighborhood will be free to move in and out starting Saturday at 6 a.m., said Lewis Brown, the minister of information. The army, which had pressed for the quarantine and took the lead in enforcing it in the first two days, will be removed from West Point, leaving only the police, Mr. Brown said.
A nationwide curfew, from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m., will remain in place, he said.
“This was a tool intended to help the community to help themselves and get the help they desperately need,” Mr. Brown said in a telephone interview. “We’re pleased with the way that the community has owned up to this.”
Ms. Johnson Sirleaf ordered the quarantine on Aug. 20, rejecting the advice of international Ebola experts and her own health officials who argued that such a large-scale quarantine, especially one led by the military, would be unmanageable and could exacerbate the spread of the disease. The quarantine immediately led to running battles between residents and the security forces; Shakie Kamara, a 15-year-old boy caught in the violence, died after suffering bullet wounds to both legs.
During the quarantine, many residents have sneaked out of West Point by paying bribes to soldiers and police officers. Prices of food and basic goods have doubled, causing living conditions in the slum to degrade further.
As state radio announced the news of the lifting of the quarantine Friday night, hundreds of residents in West Point gathered on its main road to celebrate, according to residents contacted by phone. Soldiers could no longer be seen at checkpoints, and only a light police presence remained, residents said.
“The road is jam-packed,” said Abubakar Bah, who manages a drug dispensary near the main entrance. “Everybody is very happy. Most people here still don’t believe there is Ebola in West Point. They’re saying that the government came and didn’t find Ebola, and so that’s why they’re leaving.”