The streets of Sierra Leone’s capital city of Freetown were uncharacteristically empty Friday, as the government began a controversial lockdown in an effort to slow the spread of the deadly Ebola virus.

Of the 5,335 people infected with Ebola so far during the deadliest Ebola outbreak in history, 1,673 are in Sierra Leone, according to the World Health Organization. That number jumped by more than 200 in just one week, prompting Sierra Leone officials to order the country’s 6 million residents to stay home for three days.

Only law enforcement personnel, security officials and a handful of others deemed “essential” by the government are allowed on the streets during that time — and only with a government-issued pass, as the Guardian reported.

Those stuck at home will get a visit from officials and volunteers, who are tasked with educating residents about Ebola while also searching for any infected individuals who may be hiding. The officials and volunteers will also be on the lookout for corpses of previously unknown Ebola victims.

Critics fear the lockdown will have a severe impact on the welfare of the country’s poor. Isha Turay, who sells vegetables in Freetown, told Reuters that the three-day break in business would be devastating. “If we don’t sell, we cannot eat,” she said, adding: “We don’t know how we can survive in this lockdown. More suffering.”

The move’s critics include Doctors Without Borders, an organization on the front lines of the war against Ebola. “It has been our experience that lockdowns and quarantines do not help control Ebola as they end up driving people underground and jeopardizing the trust between people and health providers,” the group said in a recent statement.

Just before the lockdown, residents rushed to buy what provisions they could.


(Tanya Bindra/European Pressphoto Agency)

Now, normally bustling streets are empty.


A street in Freetown on Friday. (Umaru Fofana/Reuters)