Sierra Leone back to work after Ebola lockdown

Sierra Leone health officials check passengers transiting at the border crossing with Liberia in Jendema on March 28, 2015 (AFP Photo/Zoom Dosso) (AFP/File)

Freetown (AFP) - Sierra Leoneans breathed a sigh of relief on Monday as they emerged from a three-day nationwide lockdown imposed in a bid to prevent a resurgence of the deadly Ebola virus.

The country's population of more than six million had been confined to their homes starting early on Friday, for the second time in six months, on orders from President Ernest Bai Koroma.

"Stepping out this morning, I took several sniffs of the fresh air and said 'thank you, Lord'," hawker Tommy Carew smiled as he returned to the streets in the capital Freetown.

The city of 1.2 million had been deserted since the order took effect, with markets, businesses, banks and office buildings shut and only healthcare workers' vehicles plying the streets.

The lockdown was called over fears the disease that has killed almost a third of the 12,000 people infected in Sierra Leone was making a comeback around the capital and in the north.

Nearly 26,000 volunteers went door-to-door over the weekend in a nationwide search for hidden corpses and patients.

Officials said on Sunday that 40 bodies and 172 sick people had been taken from homes in the Western Area, which includes the capital, over the first two days of the exercise.

Banks, supermarkets and freshly restocked markets heaved in Freetown on Monday as shoppers headed out to make up for missed grocery runs.

One bakery said it had run out of bread within three hours of opening.

The city's narrow streets, eerily quiet throughout the weekend, once again seethed with traffic, noise and pollution as motorists got back behind the wheel.

"It's a great relief that it has ended and I hope it will be the last as it hit hard on my business," said taxi driver Sammy Keitell.

Market stallholder Bintu Sillah described the lockdown as "like being put in a cage and the key thrown away".

"I realise that all was in the task of fighting Ebola but it was hard staying indoors and looking at the ceiling," she told AFP.

Residents contacted by AFP have been broadly supportive of the curfew, and complaints on Monday focused on boredom, although some householders said they were not given soap promised by health teams.

Seamstress Finda George said she used the time indoors to reflect on those who had lost their lives.

"They need our thoughts and because we are so busy, we hardly take time to remember them," she said.

The outbreak has killed 10,400 people since it began in Guinea in December 2013 and spread to neighbouring Liberia and Sierra Leone, according to the World Health Organization.

Government officials declared the lockdown a success although they added that final data on bodies recovered and patients processed would not be available until Tuesday at the earliest.

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