Police in the Liberian capital have fired live rounds and tear gas to disperse a stone-throwing crowd trying to break an Ebola quarantine imposed on their neighbourhood, as the death toll from the epidemic in West Africa hit 1,350.
In the sprawling oceanfront West Point neighbourhood of Monrovia, at least four people were injured in clashes with security forces, witnesses said. It was unclear whether anyone was wounded by the gunfire, though a Reuters news agency photographer saw a young boy with his leg largely severed just above the ankle on Wednesday.
Liberian authorities introduced a nationwide curfew on Tuesday and put the West Point neighbourhood under quarantine to curb the spread of the disease.
“The soldiers are using live rounds,” said army spokesman Dessaline Allison, adding: “The soldiers applied the rules of engagement. They did not fire on peaceful citizens. There will be medical reports if (an injury) was from bullet wounds.”
The World Health Organisation said that the countries hit by the worst ever outbreak of the deadly virus were beginning to suffer shortages of fuel, food and basic supplies after shipping companies and airlines suspended services to the region.
The epidemic of the hemorrhagic fever, which can kill up to 90 percent of those it infects, is ravaging the three small West African states of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. It also has a toehold in Nigeria, Africa’s biggest economy and most populous country.
Liberia – where the death toll is rising fastest —said its ministry of health warehouse had run out of rubber boots and bottles of hand sanitiser, essential for preventing the spread of the disease.
Still struggling to recover from a devastating 1989-2003 civil war, Liberia recorded 95 deaths in the two days to August 18, the World Health Organisation said. Since it was discovered in remote southeastern Guinea in March, the overall death toll from the outbreak has reached 1,350 from a total of 2,473 cases.
Witnesses said the clashes in West Point started after security forces early on Wednesday blocked roads to the neighbourhood with tables, chairs and barbed wire. Residents said they were not warned.
Security forces also came in to escort the local commissioner out of the neighbourhood, they said.
Attempts to isolate the worst affected areas of the country and neighbouring Sierra Leone have raised fears of unrest in one of the world’s poorest regions should communities start to run low on food and medical supplies.
“I don’t have any food and we’re scared,” said Alpha Barry, a resident of West Point who said he came from Guinea and has four children under age 13.
In an effort to calm tensions, authorities on Wednesday started delivering tonnes of rice, oil and essential foodstuffs to West Point, residents and a government official said.
The World Food Programme has begun emergency food shipments to quarantined zones where a million people may be at risk of shortages. The WHO has appealed to companies and international organisations to continue providing supplies and services to countries at risk, saying there was a low risk of contagion.
Meanwhile, up to 30,000 people would have required Ebola drugs in the west African outbreak by now, according to a scientific attempt to quantify demand for a treatment and vaccine, published on Wednesday.
No approved drugs exist though several are under development and the World Health Organisation last week gave the green light for experimental medicines to be used to fight the deadly disease.
University of Oxford epidemiologist Oliver Brady published a guide in the journal Nature for drug manufacturers and regulators to determine potential demand. “This demand is likely to be higher than many people realise,” he wrote.
“For example, our analysis suggests that, even under a conservative scenario, up to 30,000 people would have so far required treatment or prophylaxis in the current outbreak.”
This was “substantially more” than for any of the 22 other Ebola outbreaks that have occurred since 1976.
Brady said the calculation was based on the number of people known to be infected and those they would have been in close contact with, as well as the number of doctors, nurses, corpse-handlers and non-essential support staff at risk of exposure.
Of the 30 000 estimate, at least 2,250 individuals known to have fallen ill to date would have required a treatment, while the rest are people considered at a “high enough level of risk” to warrant being given a vaccine. – AFP