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Christmas celebrations banned because of Ebola

19 December 2014

by a staff reporter

lambeth palace

Solidarity: the Archbishop of Canterbury in Sierra Leone, last week. "Your faces will be before me in my mind on Christmas Day," he said

Solidarity: the Archbishop of Canterbury in Sierra Leone, last week. "Your faces will be before me in my mind on Christmas Day," he said

CHRISTMAS celebrations are being banned in Sierra Leone, as the country tries to fight back against the Ebola virus. Numbers of cases are still rising in some parts of the country.

With more than 8000 cases - including some 1900 deaths since the start of the outbreak in the spring - it overtook Liberia as the country with the most cases earlier in December, World Health Organization (WHO) figures suggest.

A spokesman for the President, Ernest Bai Koroma, said that public gatherings would be banned and soldiers deployed on the streets over the Christmas period to keep people indoors.

Although Christianity is the minority religion - about 25 per cent are Christian, compared with 70 per cent who are Muslim - Christmas is still widely celebrated in the country.

The Archbishop of Canterbury visited Sierra Leone this week, preaching in St George's Cathedral, in the capital, Freetown, and meeting children whose lives have been affected by the virus and are being cared for in an "interim" centre that provides counselling and trauma services.

Archbishop Welby told the cathedral's congregation: "Your suffering and your endurance across the afflicted countries have echoed around the world. Those who fight Ebola have been named by Time magazine as People of the Year. But it is not only the medical teams: you lead as clergy and community leaders in sharing the suffering and grief of the people.

"I find myself struggling to know what to say. If I am asked in the next week what was the most important part of Christmas for me this year, I will say it was to be with you here, and last week with those suffering from war in the South Sudan."

The head of Christian Aid's humanitarian division, Nick Guttman, has just returned from Freetown. He said that hotspots for the virus were still moving around and, in some parts of the country, including Freetown and the north, the number of new cases was still rising.

"In other parts of the country, the situation has improved, but the worry then is that people will get complacent. In the eastern area of the country where we've been working, there were no cases for a while, but now there are some cases again.

"A lot of very, very good work is being done, but more needs to be done to help people deal with the stigma, which is as important as building new treatment centres."

Christian Aid is working in quarantined areas where families had been put in isolation after having some contact with the virus.

"We are providing them with essentials, food, and other important items, and they told us they understood why they were being quarantined, which is so important. But where that information isn't understood, then there is fear.

"Even when the virus-spread has been reduced, there will have to be work done on reducing the stigma of Ebola, making sure that, when people have recovered from it, or come into contact with it, they are able to be fully part of society again."

Sierra Leone is thought to have quarantined half its six million population as it steps up the fight against the virus.

Mr Guttman said that medical personnel were working in the streets, checking people's temperatures, and that washing and hygiene facilities were available. "It's all being done calmly by people, but there is lot of fear about the future," he said.

The charity is training local volunteers to enable them to offer psychological support to survivors and their families, the bereaved, and relatives of suspected or confirmed Ebola-virus patients, to try to tackle the growing levels of stigma surrounding the disease.



December 2013: The Ebola outbreak began with the death of a toddler in a remote village in Guinea, followed by the deaths of his mother, sister, and grandmother. Mourners carried the disease to other areas of Guinea.

March 2014: Ebola was confirmed in Guinea and also in Liberia.

May: The WHO confirmed Ebola had spread to Sierra Leone.

July: An infected Liberian official died in Nigeria; Liberia shut down its border crossings. Two US aid workers were infected in Liberia, and were flown home. They were treated with the experimental drug Z-Mapp, and made a full recovery.

August: Deaths passed 1000; WHO declared Ebola a "national health emergency". The British volunteer nurse William Pooley was flown back to the UK for emergency treatment after contracting the virus while treating patients in Sierra Leone. He also recovered.

September: The US announced it would send 3000 troops to west Africa to build treatment centres. The first person to be diagnosed with Ebola on US soil died; two healthcare workers who treated him tested positive for it.

October: The UK Government announced health screenings at Gatwick and Heathrow. WHO figures showed 10,000 cases worldwide, and 4922 deaths.

November: The UN announced that cases were surging in Sierra Leone owing to lack of treatment centres. Cases were declining in Liberia.

December: Cases topped 11,000, with nearly 7000 deaths.


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