(Reuters) – Hundreds of troops deployed in Sierra Leone and Liberia on Monday under an emergency plan to fight the worst outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus, which has killed more than 826 people across West Africa.
Panic among local communities, which have attacked health workers and threatened to burn down isolation wards, prompted regional governments to impose tough measures last week, including the closure of schools and quarantine of the remote forest region hardest hit by the disease.
The hemorrhagic virus, which has no known cure, has infected more than 1,400 people in its first outbreak in West Africa, straining the capacity of under-funded health systems and aid groups to breaking point in one of the world’s poorest regions.
Despite pleas for help from aid groups, the number of cases is also creeping steadily higher in Guinea, where the outbreak originated in February. And Nigeria’s megacity of Lagos on Monday recorded its second case of Ebola in a doctor who treated U.S. victim Patrick Sawyer.
Long convoys of military trucks ferried troops and medical workers on Monday to Sierra Leone’s far east, where the density of cases is highest. Military spokesman Colonel Michael Samoura said the operation, code named Octopus, involved around 750 military personnel.
Troops will gather in the southeastern town of Bo before travelling to isolated communities to implement quarantines, he added. Healthcare workers will be allowed to come and go freely, and the communities will be kept supplied with food.
In neighbouring Liberia, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and ministers held a crisis meeting on Sunday on putting in place a series of anti-Ebola measures as police contained infected communities in the northern Lofa county.
Police were setting up checkpoints and roadblocks for key entrance and exit points to those infected communities and every resident would be stopped. Nobody would be allowed to exit quarantined communities. Troops were fanning out across Liberia to help to deal with the emergency.
“The situation will probably get worse before it gets better,” Liberian Information Minister Lewis Brown told Reuters. “We are over-stretched. We need support; we need resources; we need workers.”