The New Dawn (Monrovia)

21 August 2014

Liberia: Gunshots Fired in West Point As Govt Quarantines Township

Gunshots were fired in the air as security forces (members of the armed forces and riot police) clashed with angry protesters on Wednesday as government quarantined the densely populated West Point Community as part of efforts to stop the further spread of Ebola.

Angry residents of the slum community over the weekend stormed the Ebola isolation center and looted materials and food items, as many of the suspected patients flew the center.

The patients, the government said have been found and relocated at the John F. Kennedy Medical Center in Sinkor, Monrovia.

The clash between the security forces and angry youth from the slum community come as a curfew imposed by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf took effect at 9pm Wednesday night.

As part of the measure the central market district, that is the Waterside General Market situated between the Bushrod Island and the heavily congested slum community has been shut down by the government to ensure full compliance of the curfew (9:00 pm to 6:00 am).

The President had earlier declared a state of emergency and closed major borders to halt mass movement of people or mass gathering in a bid to avoid further spread of the virus among the population. The curfew, announced late Tuesday, took full effect on Wednesday, barring operations of entertainment centers across the capital.

Marketers, who made their way to the Waterside General Market on Wednesday morning for normal business activities were turned away by police and soldiers of the Armed Forces of Liberia. The marketers were seen standing around in the commercial district of Via Town on Bushrod Island because there was no way for them to go and sell or buy.

Meanwhile, following the weekend's looting of a holding center established by the government for suspected Ebola patients in West Point Township, which led to the escape of all 17 patients on observation, the authorities have quarantined the entire township, preventing people from entering or leaving - an action that provoked riots by angry residents who engaged security forces in a stone throwing battle.

Security forces responded by firing shots in the air as panic-gripped residents ran helter-skelter for safety. A newspaper journalist residing in West Point told Truth FM 96.1 via mobile phone on Wednesday that the move by the government has caused food prices to skyrocket with a 25kg bag of rice previously sold for 1,500 Liberia Dollars now being at 2,000 Liberian Dollars while a sachet of drinking water earlier sold for 75 Liberian Dollars has reportedly jumped to 200 Liberian Dollars.

However, Information Minister Lewis Brown, on Wednesday assured the residents that government was put in place mechanism to take food to the township for the highly impoverished residents. The Senate's health committee had announced Tuesday that the government was considering quarantining West Point Township. Grand Kru County Senator Peter Sonpon Coleman, said the national task force was finalizing discussion on the matter.

Speaking to his colleagues in plenary Tuesday at the Capitol, Senator Coleman, a former health minister, said the infamous looting and vandalizing of the Ebola holding center in West Point is worrisome and dangerous to the entire country. The violence in the West Point slum occurred late Saturday led by angry residents in protest that patients were brought from other parts of the capital to the holding center, Tolbert Nyenswah, Assistant Health Minister, said Sunday.

West Point residents went on a "looting spree," stealing items from the clinic that were likely infected, said a senior police official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the press. The residents took mattresses, sheets and blankets that had bloodstains, which could spread the infection.

Police restored order to the West Point neighborhood, which is home to an estimated 100,000 poor residents. Health officials say they fear the looting incident will spread Ebola infections in the capital, Monrovia.

Sen. Coleman also told his colleagues that the government has instructed the Armed Forces of Liberia or AFL to erect checkpoint between Nimba and Grand Gedeh Counties and another one between Rivercess and Sinoe Counties. He explained that the checkpoints are intended to monitor movement of travelers, who will be checked regularly.

The World Health Organization on Tuesday announced the number of confirmed and likely infections has risen to 2,240, including 113 new cases reported late last week. The majority of the new deaths were in Liberia, where authorities are struggling to contain the virus. Between Aug. 14-16, Liberia recorded 53 new deaths, followed by Sierra Leone, with 17, and Guinea, 14.

The government has reported the improving health of three Ebola-infected health care workers, who received the experimental drug Zmapp. Medical professionals treating the three workers say the tree are showing "very positive signs of recovery" and are making "remarkable" progress, the authorities here have said.

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