Via The Observer: Ebola crisis in Liberia brings rumours, hygiene lessons and hunger. Excerpt:
Another day has just broken in Liberia's capital, Monrovia. Outside a block of humble flats on Centre Street, two women in long overcoats jump out of a taxi, avoiding the torrents of rainwater pouring along the gutter as they carry a large plastic bucket.
On the porch, a crowd of young homeless men take shelter. They are about to receive a lesson in handwashing, non-contact and recognising symptoms of the deadly Ebola virus. It has killed 249 of their countrymen so far since March, 961 worldwide, and prompted 1,779 reported cases internationally.
The fact that Ebola is spread through bodily fluids such as sweat and saliva means reducing physical contact has become a national obsession. At any time of day, outside banks, shops and homes, people disinfect their hands with chlorinated water. Shaking hands is forbidden and some have donned latex gloves.
Last week the government ramped up anti-Ebola measures. On Wednesday, Liberia's president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, declared a state of emergency for 90 days. Her televised statement sent a new wave of fear through communities following two weeks of alarming announcements.
The government has already sent home non-essential staff, closed schools and forbidden large gatherings. Last week three days of national fasting and prayer pushed many businesses into shutting up shop.
But Sirleaf's message that the new arrangements allow the government to "institute extraordinary measures, including, if need be, the suspension of certain rights and privileges", has left many wondering what will happen next.
"No, I don't think the government has made the right decision," says one of the flats' residents, Christina Quinn, who has come down from the upper balcony clutching her one-year-old twins to listen to the women. "Three months is not a short time to declare a state of emergency. How do you expect citizens to get food and do their normal business?"
Quinn says her mobile phone business has declined sharply since the Ebola outbreak reached Monrovia. She is a single mother with four children to support.
"It will increase the hardship, tension and prices, because now there is no cargo in the Monrovia area – they have closed the roads," she says.
Troops set up checkpoints last week to reduce people's movements in five of the country's 15 counties. But Operation White Shield effectively trapped hundreds of travellers and traders in Ebola-affected areas outside the city.
Liberia's land borders have also been closed since July, cutting off vital trade routes. The country is heavily dependent on imports, including 90% of the rice it consumes.