Sierra Leone is to go into another three-day nationwide lockdown in an effort by the government to scale up its response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
President Julius Maada Bio made the announcement on Thursday, the day he marked 10 days into self-isolation., after a member of his security tested positive for the virus.
The announcement comes as the virus spirals out of control, with new cases increasing by the day and spreading across the country, despite the imposition of tough measures that include movement restrictions.
Bio said he took the decision based on expert advice, which indicated an increase in community transmission of the virus.
"Epidemiological data and other evidence indicate that there is community transmission of Covid-19 in Sierra Leone," Bio said in a statement aired on State Broadcaster, SLBC.
The lockdown is scheduled to commence on Sunday May 3 and ends Tuesday May 5.
The government declared a two-day grace period - Friday May 1 and Saturday May 2 - to allow people to prepare for the lockdown.
Banks were ordered to operate on the two days, even though Friday had been declared a public holiday to mark Workers' Day.
The government also on Friday announced a cash transfer to poor families to cushion the potential effect of the lockdown.
In the last one week, Covid-19 cases have rapidly increased in the country, covering seven of the 16 districts, and covering all five geographical regions of the country.
There were 136 cumulative cases of the virus as of Friday morning, according to figures released by the Emergency Operation Center, which also said that 21 people had recovered. There were seven deaths.
Sierra Leone was the last West African country to record a case of the virus. This was largely because it was one of the few to institute measures in place long before the virus appeared in Africa.
President Bio said the lockdown will allow the National Covid-19 Response Team to intensify contact tracing and detection; scale up testing and isolation; expand treatment, and undertake all other measures necessary to break the transmission of the virus in the country.
"All other existing measures, including the curfew and restrictions on inter-district travel, shall remain in full force," the president added.
The development comes at the backdrop of rising political tension in the country.
On Friday, a top opposition politician was detained, amidst allegation of incitement. It followed a deadly riot on Wednesday at the country's maximum security prison, where 12 people - 11 prisoners and a prison guard - died after a riot by the inmates.
Part of the Pademba Road Correctional Center was destroyed by a huge fire that broke out as a result of the riot.
The government described the incident as an attempted prison break. It happens just days after the first case of Covid-19 was confirmed in the prison facility.
While the governing SLPP appears to be blaming the main opposition APC of being behind the incident, the latter believes it was orchestrated as a pretext to clamp down on its members.
A senior members of the APC - former Defense Minister (Rtd) Major Alfred Paolo Conteh - was in detention at the prison facility where the riot took place. He faces treason charges after he was caught with a gun as he headed for a scheduled meeting with President Bio.
The United Nations in a statement cautioned the various political players in the country to tone down and unite against the Covid-19 pandemic, rather than engaging in actions that jeopardizes nation peace and security.
"More than ever, preventing the spread of Covid-19 should be the overarching priority for institutions and individuals alike, which demands consensus and unity of purpose among all sections of Sierra
Leonean society," the office of the UN Resident Coordinator said in a statement.
"To this end, the United Nations in Sierra Leone calls on all the political parties, their followers, security agencies and the population at large to promote respect for human rights while eschewing acts of incitement and other actions liable to lead to violence and distract from the all-important fight against Covid-19," it added.