What a difference a year makes as Ebola-free zone brings in 2016

(AFP) Banned from gathering in public as the death toll crept towards five figures, the people of west Africa's Ebola-hit nations could hardly have had a worse New Year's Eve 2014.

Spool forward 12 months however and Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea are preparing to party as they usher in 2016 hoping to have seen the back of an epidemic which eventually left more than 11,000 dead over two years.

With Guinea declared free of the outbreak this week, Sierra Leone in the clear since November and Liberia going more than a month with no new infections, the region has much reason for New Year optimism.

Sierra Leone's capital Freetown was shaping up Thursday to reclaim its mantle as host of some of the best New Year's Eve beach parties in Africa as revelers scared away by Ebola began flocking back to its palm-fringed white sand shoreline.

The city of 1.2 million was deserted 12 months ago, with public gatherings and even church services banned as people were confined to their homes amid the worst Ebola outbreak in history.


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