With the Ebola outbreak weakening in West Africa, Sierra Leone eased restrictions on movement and commercial activity Friday even as the president warned that the fight against the deadly disease is not yet over.
The outbreak has sickened more than 21,000 people, nearly half of them in Sierra Leone. But the number of new infections is now falling in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, the three most affected countries.
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President Ernest Bai Koroma announced in a national broadcast that, starting Friday, the country would lift all district quarantines and extend business hours on Saturdays. Koroma said that while people must remain vigilant, easing the restrictions would jump-start the economic recovery. In addition to its human toll, Ebola has hammered the economies of the three most affected West African nations, including cutting people off from their farms, shutting markets and hampering the movement of goods.
Sierra Leone plans to reopen schools in March, and Koroma also outlined the steps that must be taken before that happens, including disinfecting schools that were used to screen or treat Ebola patients and training teachers in safety and hygiene measures.
"Though victory is in sight, we must not relent, we must continue to soldier on," Koroma said in the Thursday night speech.
The World Health Organization said this week that Ebola cases are continuing to fall across Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, but tracking down every last case and ending the outbreak remains difficult.
While cases in Guinea and Liberia are at their lowest level since August and September, according to WHO, only 53 percent of new cases in those countries are from known contacts of confirmed cases, meaning the agency still lacks precise information about where the virus is spreading. Similar information was not available for Sierra Leone.