FREETOWN, Sierra Leone – Guinea has deployed security forces to the country’s southwest in response to reports that Sierra Leoneans are crossing the border to flee an Ebola lockdown intended to stamp out the deadly disease, an official said Saturday.
The deployment, led by the head of the national gendarmerie, was sent late Friday night to the town of Forecariah, said gendarmerie spokesman Mamadou Alpha Barry, adding that the area is “secure.”
Residents reported tension in the region resulting from a large influx of Sierra Leoneans in the days leading up to the lockdown, which went into effect on Friday and ends Sunday.
“Why would they leave their country if they didn’t have Ebola?” said Forecariah resident Mamadou Kolibe. “We are opposed to their arrival and that has caused a stir here.”
In Guinea’s border town of Pamelap, resident Iliassa Balde said security forces had to intervene to prevent clashes on Friday night and all residents were asked to stay in their homes.
The southwest region of Guinea borders northern districts of Sierra Leone that are focus areas for the lockdown operation.
In Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital, officials reported that most people stayed in their homes on Friday and Saturday, with the exception of teams looking for possible cases and Muslims heading to mosques on Friday. The lockdown does not apply to people attending religious services.
Sierra Leone conducted a similar nationwide operation last September when transmission rates were much higher. Ebola has infected nearly 12,000 people in Sierra Leone, more than any other country, but the latest weekly total of 33 confirmed cases is the lowest since last June.
While the previous lockdown included a large public education component, this time around most people are well aware of the danger posed by Ebola, meaning teams can focus on identifying patients, said Samuel Turay, an evaluation officer with Sierra Leone’s National Ebola Response Center.
“I’m sure that after this we will have total control over the virus,” he said.