Liberia president declares Ebola curfew

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MONROVIA, Liberia (AP) - Liberia's president declared a curfew and ordered security forces to quarantine a slum home to at least 50,000 people late Tuesday as the West African country battled to stop the spread of Ebola in the capital.

The measures came as authorities said that three health workers in the country who received an experimental drug for the disease are showing signs of recovery, though medical experts caution it is not certain if the drug is effective.

At least 1,229 people have died of Ebola in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria in the current outbreak, and more than 2,240 have been sickened, according to the World Health Organization. The fastest rising number of cases has been reported in Liberia, with at least 466 dead.

Liberia president declares Ebola curfew
Children surround a man, left, that fell down while walking on a street suspected of having contracted the Ebola virus in the city of Monrovia, Liberia, Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014. The World Health Organization says the outbreak has killed more than 1,200 people, while authorities struggle to contain its spread and treat the sick. (AP Photo/Abbas Dulleh)
The Waterside local market with people doing business as usual despite fears of the Ebola virus in city center of Monrovia, Liberia, Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014. The World Health Organization says the outbreak has killed more than 1,200 people, while authorities struggle to contain its spread and treat the sick.(AP Photo/Abbas Dulleh)
A newly installed electronic board, rear, with updates on the Ebola virus with periodical information spanning over different time periods in the city of Monrovia, Liberia, Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014. The World Health Organization says the outbreak has killed more than 1,200 people, while authorities struggle to contain its spread and treat the sick. (AP Photo/Abbas Dulleh)
A newly installed electronic board, rear, gives updates on the Ebola virus with periodical information spanning over different time periods in the city of Monrovia, Liberia, Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014. The World Health Organization says the outbreak has killed more than 1,200 people, while authorities struggle to contain its spread and treat the sick.(AP Photo/Abbas Dulleh)
As it rains Liberian police deploy at an Ebola treatment center, to provide security in the city of Monrovia, Liberia, Monday, Aug. 18, 2014. Liberia's armed forces were given orders to shoot people trying to illegally cross the border from neighboring Sierra Leone, which was closed to stem the spread of Ebola, local newspaper Daily Observer reported Monday. (AP Photo/Abbas Dulleh)
Health workers with buckets, as part of their Ebola virus prevention protective gear, at an Ebola treatment center in the city of Monrovia, Liberia, Monday, Aug. 18, 2014. Liberia's armed forces were given orders to shoot people trying to illegally cross the border from neighboring Sierra Leone, which is closed to stem the spread of Ebola, local newspaper Daily Observer reported Monday. (AP Photo/Abbas Dulleh)
As it rains Liberian police deploy at an Ebola treatment center, to provide security in the city of Monrovia, Liberia, Monday, Aug. 18, 2014. Liberia's armed forces were given orders to shoot people trying to illegally cross the border from neighboring Sierra Leone, which was closed to stem the spread of Ebola, local newspaper Daily Observer reported Monday. (AP Photo/Abbas Dulleh)
Bed frames are laid out to be used at a newly built MSF, 'Doctors Without Borders', Ebola treatment center in the city of Monrovia, Liberia, Monday, Aug. 18, 2014. Liberia's armed forces were given orders to shoot people trying to illegally cross the border from neighboring Sierra Leone, which was closed to stem the spread of Ebola, local newspaper Daily Observer reported Monday. (AP Photo/Abbas Dulleh)
A health worker washes with disinfectant after dealing with people suspected of having the Ebola virus in the city of Monrovia, Liberia, Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014. New figures released by the World Health Organization showed that Liberia has recorded more Ebola deaths — 413 — than any of the other affected countries. (AP Photo/Abbas Dulleh)
In this photo taken on Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014, a family sit near the body of their mother suspected of dying from the Ebola virus, as the father, right, tries to contact family members on his mobile phone, in Monrovia, Liberia. Liberian officials fear Ebola could soon spread through the capital's largest slum after residents raided a quarantine center for suspected patients and took items including blood-stained sheets and mattresses. The violence in the West Point slum occurred late Saturday and was led by residents angry that patients were brought from other parts of the capital to the holding center, Tolbert Nyenswah, assistant health minister, said Sunday. (AP Photo/Abbas Dulleh)
MONROVIA, LIBERIA - AUGUST 18: Public health advocates stage an Ebola awareness and prevention event on August 18, 2014 in Monrovia, Liberia. The Liberian government and international groups are trying to convince residents of the danger and are urging people to wash their hands to help prevent the spread of the epidemic, which is spread by bodily fluids. The virus has killed more than 1,000 people in four African countries, and Liberia now has had more deaths than any other country. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
NEW KRU TOWN, LIBERIA - AUGUST 18: Local residents listen as UNICEF health workers speak about Ebola prevention on August 18, 2014 in New Kru Town, Liberia. UNICEF is canvassing communities in and around the capital, going house to house and urging residents to wash their hands to help prevent the spread of the epidemic, which is spread by bodily fluids. The virus has killed more than 1,000 people in four African countries, and Liberia now has had more deaths than any other country. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
MONROVIA, LIBERIA - AUGUST 17: Workers prepare the new Doctors Without Borders (MSF), Ebola treatment center on August 17, 2014 near Monrovia, Liberia. The facility initially has 120 beds, making it the largest such center for Ebola treatment and isolation in history, and MSF plans to expand it to a 350-bed capacity. Tents, beds and much of the medical supplies at the center were provided by UNICEF. The Ebola epidemic has killed more than 1,000 people in four African countries, and Liberia now has had more deaths than any other country. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
NEW KRU TOWN, LIBERIA - AUGUST 18: A man who was showing symptoms of possible Ebola listens as UNICEF health workers speak about Ebola prevention on August 18, 2014 in New Kru Town, Liberia. UNICEF is canvassing communities in and around the capital, urging residents to wash their hands to help prevent the spread of the epidemic, which is spread by bodily fluids. The virus has killed more than 1,000 people in four African countries, and Liberia now has had more deaths than any other country. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
NEW KRU TOWN, LIBERIA - AUGUST 18: A man washes his hands in chlorinated water as UNICEF health workers walk through the streets, speaking about Ebola prevention on August 18, 2014 in New Kru Town, Liberia. UNICEF is canvassing communities in and around the capital, urging residents to wash their hands to help prevent the spread of the epidemic, which is spread by bodily fluids. The virus has killed more than 1,000 people in four African countries, and Liberia now has had more deaths than any other country. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
MONROVIA, LIBERIA - AUGUST 17: Hanah Siafa lies with her daughter Josephine, 10, while hoping to enter the new Doctors Without Borders (MSF), Ebola treatment center on August 17, 2014 in Monrovia, Liberia. The facility initially has 120 beds, making it the largest such facility for Ebola treatment and isolation in history, and MSF plans to expand it to a 350-bed capacity. Tents at the center were provided by UNICEF. The virus has killed more than 1,000 people in four African countries, and Liberia now has had more deaths than any other country. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
MONROVIA, LIBERIA - AUGUST 17: Supplies await arrivals to the new Doctors Without Borders (MSF), Ebola treatment center on August 17, 2014 near Monrovia, Liberia. The facility initially has 120 beds, making it the largest such center for Ebola treatment and isolation in history, and MSF plans to expand it to a 350-bed capacity. Tents, beds and much of the medical supplies at the center were provided by UNICEF. The Ebola epidemic has killed more than 1,000 people in four African countries, and Liberia now has had more deaths than any other country. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
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Authorities here have struggled to treat and isolate the sick, in part because of widespread fear that treatment centers are places where people go to die. Many sick people have hidden in their homes, relatives have sometimes taken their loved ones away from health centers, and mobs have occasionally attacked health workers.

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf announced late Tuesday that a curfew is going into place from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. Security forces also will be ensuring no one goes in or out of West Point, a slum in the capital where angry residents attacked an Ebola observation center over the weekend.

"We have been unable to control the spread due to continued denials, cultural burying practices, disregard for the advice of health workers and disrespect for the warnings by the government," she said. "As a result and due to the large population concentration the disease has spread widely in Monrovia and environs."

"May God bless us all and save the state," she later added.

Saturday's attack on the observation center in West Point was triggered by fears that people with the disease were being brought there from all over the country, the Information Ministry said Tuesday. Dozens of people waiting to be screened for Ebola fled the center during the chaos. Looters made off with items, including bloody sheets and mattresses that could further spread the virus.

All the patients who fled are now being screened at a hospital in Monrovia, and those who tested positive are being treated, the ministry said. It was unclear how many of the 37 who fled were confirmed with Ebola.

Liberian authorities also are searching for a pastor who ran away from a different Ebola treatment center outside Monrovia. State radio asked the public to look out for the preacher but did not say whether he had tested positive for Ebola.

Three Liberians are currently being treated with the last known doses of ZMapp, a drug that had earlier been given to two infected Americans and a Spaniard. The Americans are also improving, but the Spaniard died.

"The medical professionals have informed the Liberian information ministry their progress is 'remarkable,'" the ministry said in a statement, adding that the patients are showing "very positive signs of recovery."

Experts have said it is unclear if ZMapp, which had never before been tested in humans, is effective. Even if it is, the California-based maker has said more supplies won't be available for months.

In the meantime, experts say the best way to stop the spread of Ebola in West Africa is to identify the sick, isolate them from the healthy and monitor everyone with whom they have been in contact.

The WHO said it is seeing some encouraging signs in other parts of West Africa. In Guinea, people from villages that had previously rejected outside help were beginning to seek medical care, according to a WHO statement. The statement said the situation is "less alarming" in Guinea than in Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Although the outbreak began in Guinea, Liberia has now recorded the highest number of deaths and Sierra Leone the most cases.

The WHO also said there is "cautious optimism" that the spread of the virus in Nigeria can be stopped. Late Tuesday, health authorities there announced a fifth Ebola death - a doctor who had treated a man who flew to Nigeria from Liberia while infected. So far, all recorded cases have been linked to that man.

"The outbreak is not under control," the WHO cautioned. "As recent experience shows, progress is fragile, with a real risk that the outbreak could experience another flare-up."

To try to stem the spread of Ebola, officials have imposed quarantines and travel restrictions on the sick and those in contact with them, sometimes shutting off entire villages and counties.

Those restrictions are limiting access to food and other necessities, said the WHO. The U.N. World Food Program has said that it is preparing to deliver food to 1 million people over the next three months.

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