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Sierra Leone bans Xmas parties in fight against Ebola

Sierra Leone is struggling to reduce the spread of the virus as the West African death toll continues to rise.

Health workers of the International Federation of Red Cross (IFRC) and Medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) take part in a pre-deployment training for staff heading to Ebola-affected countries, at the headquarters of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), in Geneva, Switzerland, 4 November 2014. Picture: EPA.

DAKAR/FREETOWN - Sierra Leone plans to ban parties and other festivities over the Christmas and New Year's holidays and to launch a "surge" to cut the risk of Ebola spreading further in the West African country now with the most infections, officials said on Friday.

Sierra Leone is struggling to reduce the spread of the viral haemorrhagic fever as the death toll in West Africa continues to rise, fuelled in part by increasing infections in the country.

Figures from the World Health Organization on Friday showed 6,583 people have died from the disease in three states in West Africa - Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia - out of 18,188 cases.

"The government is planning to keep people indoors during Christmas through Boxing Day and New Year," said Jarrah Kawusu-Konte, a spokesman for Sierra Leone's president.

He told Reuters that the government would deploy soldiers across the country to enforce the measure, which would include a ban on parties and other gatherings.

"When you have parties, the risks are very high. We are very anxious to break the chain of transmission through parties and gatherings," Kawusu-Konte said. He did not specify the date when the ban would take effect.

EBOLA RESPONSE SURGE

In addition to the ban on gatherings, Sierra Leonean authorities are also planning what they have called a "surge" in their response in and around the capital Freetown, aimed at stemming the increasing rise of Ebola infections.

For several weeks, most of the new infections have been showing up in and around Freetown. At least more than five areas in the far west and far east of Freetown will be particularly targeted where epidemiologists say sick people still refuse to report to treatment centers.

Data published by WHO on Friday showed that there were some 8,086 cases in Sierra Leone, with nearly 1,900 deaths.

The month-long surge, which will start on Wednesday, is aimed at strengthening the country's response, especially in terms of tracing people who have contracted Ebola, according to Palo Conteh, the head of Sierra Leone's National Ebola Response Center (NERC).

"We want to get sick people out of their homes and take them to treatment centers, more of which we will be opening next week," Conteh said in Freetown.

NERC Coordinator Stephen Gaojia said there would be "door-to-door" visits as people were still dying at home because they were refusing to report to health facilities even when infected.

He added that 900 beds would be made available to take in the sick in order to reduce the transmission rate in the western area after New Year's Day and to ultimately stop transmission of Ebola.

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