Sierra Leone has been severely affected by Ebola. Over the last six months, the country has seen a high death toll, immense human suffering and a wide range of restrictive measures that have hampered economic and urban life. Most dramatically, in Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown, the authorities have instituted a set of curfews that have forced residents to stay at home, resulting in a seemingly deserted city.
These pictures were taken during the second national lock-down or “stay at home day”, as the government calls them, from 19-21 September. The first such country-wide ebola curfew occurred in August when Ebola surfaced aggressively surface in Freetown. (The virus had been officially acknowledged in rural Sierra Leone since March, yet little preventive measures had taken place.)
President Ernest Bai Koroma announced it in an address, and the information was disseminated by radio and Whatsapp. Government officials made door-to-door visits to warn people. It’s a national manifestation of a smaller set of social prohibitions – nightclubbing, watching football in informal “cinemas”. (Religious gatherings, which can last for hours with several hundred people, are permitted.)
Imagine a city closed for three days. While it sounds not entirely unappealing, in a country where 76% live in poverty and 87% rely on public transport, it becomes hugely problematic. Food prices rocketed; rations were handed out at the last minute, leading to long queues in the streets right before the curfew was about to kick in. Clothing prices doubled: a secondhand T-shirt, normally about $3, went for $6.
The curfew was heavily enforced by the police and military. There were military and police checkpoints at every major intersection. Only individuals and vehicles with a pass were permitted to move around the city: healthcare workers, journalists, officials. Those few vehicles that were permitted took advantage of the lack of traffic and would dramatically emerge from nowhere, flouting speed limits and road safety; motorbikes and ambulances would also break the silence, carrying either Ebola samples to testing centres, or corpses to burial sites. (read more)