MONROVIA: Violence erupted in an Ebola quarantine zone in Liberia’s capital Wednesday as authorities struggled to contain the epidemic, with new suspected cases in Asia sparking fears of it spreading beyond Africa.
Four residents were injured in Monrovia’s West Point slum when soldiers opened fire and used tear gas on crowds as they tried to evacuate a state official and her family from the quarantined quarter.
The crackdown in Liberia comes as authorities around the world are scrambling to stem the worst-ever outbreak of Ebola, with the latest official toll jumping 106 in two days to 1,350 dead.
Liberia, with 576 deaths from 972 diagnosed cases, is the worst hit of the four affected west African countries, with the numbers of deaths and infections rising dramatically.
Ninety-five people died there in a surge of deaths over the weekend, the World Health Organization said Wednesday, while only nine died in Sierra Leone and two in Guinea, where the outbreak began.
Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf quarantined West Point and Dolo Town, to the east of the capital, and imposed a night-time curfew as part of new drastic measures to fight the disease.
Residents of West Point, where club-wielding youths stormed an Ebola medical facility on Saturday, reacted with fury to the crackdown, hurling stones and shouting at the security forces.
“It is inhumane,” resident Patrick Wesseh told AFP by telephone.
“They can’t suddenly lock us up without any warning, how are our children going to eat?”
On Wednesday, authorities in Asia said they had detained several people arriving from west Africa who they suspect could have Ebola.
Two Nigerians who travelled to Vietnam from Nigeria were undergoing tests at a specialist hospital in Ho Chi Minh City, health officials said.
And in Myanmar, a local man was also being tested after arriving from Guinea. The cases follow the news on Tuesday that patients were also being tested in the United States and Spain.
A young Nigerian who fell ill on an Air France flight to Paris from Lagos was met by a special medical team at Charles De Gaulle airport on Wednesday, but officials said it was a false alert.
From its initial outbreak in Guinea the virus spread to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria, overwhelming inadequate public health services already battling common deadly diseases such as malaria.
Straining the situation even further, several top officials leading the fight have lost their lives to the disease.
A doctor who treated Nigeria’s first Ebola patient died on Tuesday, taking the death toll in Africa’s most populous country to five.
Nigerian Health Minister Onyebuchi Chukwu said the doctor was “the most senior in the management of the (first Ebola) patient,” Liberian-American Patrick Sawyer, 40.
The UN’s new pointman on Ebola, David Nabarro, was expected to arrive in west Africa on Wednesday evening, and is hoping to help shore up health services in the four affected countries.
The British physician said he would focus on “revitalising the health sectors” in the affected countries, many of which have only recently emerged from years of devastating conflict.
Efforts to contain the epidemic have also run up against local distrust of outside doctors, and stories of aid workers carrying the infection.
Liberia’s leader warned that local rituals were among the factors spreading the disease.
“We have been unable to control the spread due to continued denials, cultural burying practices, disregard for the advice of health workers and disrespect for the warnings by the government,” Sirleaf said.
WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib noted “encouraging signs” in Nigeria and Guinea, where prevention measures and work to trace lines of infection were starting to take effect.
In Sierra Leone, the outbreak has also been traced back to one person: a herbalist in the remote eastern border village of Sokoma.
“She was claiming to have powers to heal Ebola. Cases from Guinea were crossing into Sierra Leone for treatment,” Mohamed Vandi, the top medical official in the hard-hit district of Kenema, told AFP.
No cure or vaccine is currently available for Ebola, which is spread by close contact with body fluids.
Given the extent of the crisis, the WHO has authorised largely untested treatments — including ZMapp and the Canadian-made VSV-EBOV vaccine, whose possible side effects on humans are not known.
Three doctors in Liberia who had been given the experimental US-made ZMapp are reportedly responding to the treatment.
Countries throughout Africa and beyond remain on high alert, however, with the Equatorial Guinea airline, Ceiba Intercontinental, the latest to suspend flights to the whole region.