FREETOWN - Streets in the capital of Sierra Leone were deserted on Friday as the West African state began a contested, three-day lockdown in a bid to halt the worst Ebola outbreak on record.
President Ernest Bai Koroma urged people to heed the emergency measures as health workers, some clad in protective biohazard suits, went house to house, checking on residents and marking each doorway they visited with chalk.
Radio stations played Ebola awareness jingles on repeat and encouraged residents to stay indoors.
"As they are fighting this Ebola, we pray that it will be eradicated. That's what we are praying for," said resident Mariam Bangura as she waited at her home in Freetown's West End neighborhood. Other residents looked out over the normally bustling seaside city from windows and balconies.
Nearly 30,000 health workers, volunteers and teachers aim to visit every household in the country of six million people by Sunday to educate them about the disease and isolate the sick.
In Freetown, teams got off to a slow start, waiting several hours to receive kits containing soap, stickers and flyers.
A few police cars and ambulances, sirens blaring, were the only traffic on the otherwise empty streets. One emergency vehicle was seen stopping at a house to take on a patient.
Ebola has infected at least 5,357 people in West Africa this year, mainly in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, killing 2,630 of those, according to the World Health Organization. The disease has also been reported in Nigeria and Senegal.
The outbreak of the hemorrhagic fever is the worst since it was identified in 1976 in the forests of central Africa.