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Lockdown bid to stamp out Ebola

Sierra Leone's six million people are being confined to their homes for three days from today as the West African nation resorts again to a sweeping shutdown in a final push to stamp out Ebola.

Thousands of teams will fan out around the country, knocking on doors to remind people how Ebola is spread and how to prevent it. In the hot spots - the regions around the capital, Freetown, and in the north - health workers will also search for Ebola cases.

Alfred Palo Conteh, the head of Sierra Leone's Ebola response, said a major goal of the campaign is to fight complacency, more than a year after the outbreak was declared in West Africa.

Ebola has infected nearly 12,000 people in Sierra Leone.

Sierra Leoneans are being asked to stay in their homes until Sunday evening. Markets, shops, restaurants and bars must shut. Muslims will be allowed to attend prayers today, and Christians can go to services on Sunday, the start of holy week before Easter.

Sierra Leone has been the worst-affected country in the outbreak and has resorted to some of the most stringent measures to stop the disease.

A similar shutdown in September is thought to have been the first time since the plague devastated Europe in the Middle Ages that such a dramatic step had been taken.

While recent weeks have seen a steep reduction in infections, 33 new cases were confirmed in Sierra Leone last week, according to the World Health Organisation. Still, the outbreak is most worrying in Guinea, where it is driven by hidden cases. Liberia currently has only one patient in treatment.

Sierra Leone's president Ernest Bai Koroma has vowed to do "whatever it takes" to get to zero cases.

"We understand that people are tired and want to get back to their normal life, but we're not there yet. It's the final metres in the race," said Roeland Monasch of Unicef.

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