Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma asked the country to begin a week of fasting and prayers Thursday to stop the Ebola virus, which has killed more than 2,700 of his compatriots.

The worst outbreak of the virus on record is still spreading in West Africa, especially in Sierra Leone, and the number of known cases globally has exceeded 20,000, the World Health Organization said Wednesday.

In a New Year’s Day broadcast, Koroma said the seven days of praying and fasting would begin immediately. “Today, I ask all to commit our actions to the grace, mercy and protection of God Almighty,” he said.

The death toll from the outbreak, which has been mostly confined to West Africa, has risen to 7,905, the WHO said, following 317 fatalities recorded since it last issued figures on Dec. 24.

Sierra Leone is the worst-hit country in the region, with more than 9,000 known Ebola cases. And the number of infections continues to grow. The country accounted for 337 of 476 cases confirmed by laboratory tests since Dec. 24.

Koroma said schools — which have been closed since July to curb the spread of the virus — would reopen soon. “The Ministry of Education is putting in place modalities to reopen schools and colleges in the shortest possible time,” he said without giving a date.

Many schools are being used as holding centers for those affected by Ebola, raising questions as to how soon they will be able to reopen for classes.

Koroma urged people not to touch the sick or corpses and to obey quarantine orders. “I know what we are being asked to do is very difficult; we are a people that have built our humanity on hugging each other, on shaking hands, on caring for the sick and showing communal empathy by participating in funeral activities,” he said.

The death toll from Ebola in the three West African countries hardest hit by the epidemic has risen, and the epidemic and shows no signs of stopping, according to the World Health Organization. (Reuters)

“But today, the Ebola devil of illness and death hides in the innocent clothing of our culture to get us,” he said.