Sierra Leone placed hundreds of homes in the capital under Ebola quarantine, in a huge blow for its recovery less than a month after it lifted all restrictions on movement.
The government said 700 properties had been locked down in Aberdeen, a fishing and tourist district of Freetown, after the death of a fisherman who tested positive for the deadly tropical virus.
“We are on top of the situation and people should not panic,” said Obi Sesay of the government’s National Ebola Response Centre, adding that a special control centre had been set up to deal with the incident.
He told reporters Aberdeen had been “flooded” with surveillance officers and contact tracers to ensure the death didn’t turn into a serious outbreak.
The west African nation of six million has seen almost 11,000 cases and 3,363 deaths during the epidemic which has raged in west Africa for more than a year.
President Ernest Bai Koroma had pointed to a “steady downward trend” in new cases on January 23, lifting country-wide quarantines affecting half the population and declaring that “victory is in sight”.
But optimism gave way to fresh alarm on Wednesday as the World Health Organization (WHO) reported the number of new cases rising across Sierra Leone and neighbouring Guinea for the second week running.
Transmission remains “widespread” in Sierra Leone, which reported 76 new confirmed cases in the week to February 8, according to the WHO.
Freetown mayor Bode Gibson, who visited Aberdeen, told reporters he was “shocked and disappointed” as the case had shattered expectations that the city was approaching the milestone of zero new cases in its weekly count.
“The lifting of the free movement ban was to allow residents to resume trade, not for them to become complacent and behave irresponsibly to increase the spread of the disease,” he said.
Arouna Taylor, a resident of Aberdeen, said canoes from Ebola hotspots like Port Loko further up the coast were docking in the area and bringing the virus with them.
“Boats are suspected to be bringing sick people at night for treatment in the capital, so the development has not come as a surprise,” he told AFP.
Ebola, one of the deadliest viruses known to man, is spread through direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person showing symptoms such as fever or vomiting.