FREETOWN/ACCRA (Reuters) - Sierra Leone declared a state of emergency and called in troops to quarantine epicentres of Ebola on Thursday, joining Liberia in imposing tough controls to curb the worst ever outbreak of the virus amid fears it could spread beyond West Africa.
Ebola has been blamed for 672 deaths in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, according to the World Health Organization. It has also reached Nigeria’s biggest city Lagos, where authorities said on Friday a man had died of the virus.
In a measure of rising international concern, Britain on Wednesday held a government meeting on Ebola, which it said was a threat it needed to respond to.
But international airlines association IATA said the WHO was not recommending any travel restrictions or border closures due to the outbreak, and there would be a low risk to other passengers if an Ebola patient flew..
The outbreak of the hemorrhagic fever, for which there is no known cure, began in the forests of remote eastern Guinea in February, but Sierra Leone now has the highest number of cases.
Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma said he would meet with the leaders of Liberia and Guinea in Conakry on Friday to discuss the epidemic and that he was cancelling a visit to Washington for a U.S.-Africa summit next week.
“Sierra Leone is in a great fight ... Failure is not an option,” Koroma said in a speech late on Wednesday, adding that the state of emergency would initially last between 60 and 90 days. “Extraordinary challenges require extraordinary measures.”
Ebola’s symptoms include external bleeding, massive internal bleeding, vomiting and diarrhoea in its final stages. The disease kills up to 90 percent of those infected, though the fatality rate in the current epidemic is running at around 60 percent.
The president said police and the military would enforce a quarantine on all epicentres of the disease, and would provide support to health officers and NGOs to do their work unhindered, following a number of attacks on health workers by local communities.
House-to-house searches would be implemented to trace Ebola victims and homes where the disease was identified would be quarantined until cleared by medical teams, he said, announcing a ban on all public meetings except those related to Ebola.
Liberia on Wednesday announced the closure of all schools across the country and said it was considering quarantining affected communities.
The U.S. Peace Corps said it was withdrawing 340 volunteers from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea after two of them came in contact with a person who later died of the virus.
Sierra Leone, a former British colony, said passengers arriving and departing Lungi International Airport would be subject to new protocols, including body temperature scans.
Two regional airlines, Nigeria’s Arik and Togo’s Asky, have cancelled all flights to Freetown and Monrovia after a U.S. citizen died in Nigeria after contracting the disease in Liberia.
Patrick Sawyer, the first recorded case of Ebola in Nigeria, took an Asky flight that stopped in Ghana and Togo, raising questions over how a person whose sister had died of the disease three weeks before was able to board an international flight.
Ghana said on Thursday it was immediately introducing body temperature screening of all travellers from West African countries at Accra airport and other major entry points, with isolation centres being set up in three towns.
Kyei Faried, deputy director in charge of disease control, told a news conference that authorities had a list of 11 passengers who disembarked from Sawyer’s flight and were monitoring them. The government is considering whether to ban flights from affected countries.
Additional reporting by Tom Miles in Geneva; Writing by Daniel Flynn; Editing by Toby Chopra and John Stonestreet