This is the wave of the future in West Africa.
MONROVIA, Liberia — Riot police and soldiers acting on their president’s orders used scrap wood and barbed wire to seal 50,000 people inside their Liberian slum Wednesday, trying to contain the Ebola outbreak that has killed 1,350 people and counting across West Africa.
Soldiers repelled the surging crowd with live rounds, driving hundreds of men and boys back into the slum known as West Point. . . .
The World Health Organization (WHO) said the death toll is rising most quickly in Liberia, which accounts for at least 576 of the deaths. At least 2,473 people have been sickened across West Africa.
The U.N. health agency also warned of shortages of food, water and other essential supplies in West Africa’s population centers.
The problem now: it has hit a city.
“It’s out of control; the numbers keep rising,” Lindis Hurum, a coordinator for Doctors without Borders in Monrovia, said this week. “It’s very difficult and complex in Monrovia. We’ve never had a large outbreak like this in an urban setting.”
This is what quarantine means.
On Wednesday, West Point residents awoke to learn that their entire area was under government quarantine. Soldiers and police in riot gear blocked roads in and out of the neighborhood. Coast-guard officers stopped residents from setting out aboard canoes from West Point, the neighborhood with the highest number of confirmed and suspected cases of Ebola in the capital.
You are sealed off. No one gets in or out. You starve.
There will be no movements in and out of those areas,” [President] Sirleaf said in a national address late Tuesday. “Additional sanctions” were necessary because her citizens failed to heed health warnings, she said.
She didn’t say how long the blockades would last, or how people trapped inside would get food, water or other help.
The rest of the nation’s healthcare system now faces collapse.
Beyond the threat of Ebola, experts warn that there has been a broader collapse of Liberia’s public-health system, resulting in a range of life-threatening illnesses and conditions that are being left untreated as hospitals close and the facilities that remain open become overwhelmed with suspected Ebola cases. . . .
Liu said her team had come across six pregnant women who had been wandering around Monrovia for hours, looking for a facility that could help deliver their babies. “They couldn’t find one,” she said. “By the time we attended to them,” she added, the babies had died.
But it’s not a 100% quarantine. Politicians break the rules, as they always do.
Angry crowds massed and became violent when a local government representative returned to her home in West Point on Wednesday to get her family out. Hundreds surrounded her house until security forces packed her relatives into a car, firing into the air and hustling them away.
Westerners think: “It can’t happen here.” Why can’t it? Why won’t it? “Because Ebola only affects people in West Africa.” Why is that? “Because we live here. Things like this do not happen here.”
This is good news. I was beginning to worry.