Police open fired on Wednesday, turning their guns on protesters in the West Point neighborhood of Liberia’s capital city after they quarantined residents without any notice, to help combat the spreading threat of Ebola in the West African country.
Residents in the impoverished Monrovia neighborhood threw stones at police officers after West Point was blocked off with barbed wire, tables, and chairs Wednesday. In response, the police threw tear gas and shot live rounds at the crowd of protesters. According to Army spokesman Dessaline Allison, “The soldiers applied the rules of engagement. They did not fire on peaceful citizens. There will be medical reports if [an injury] was from bullet wounds.” Four people with injuries from the standoff have been recorded so far, but whether or not injuries stemmed from the gunfire is unknown.
“This is messed up,” Lt. Col. Abraham Kromah said in reference to the protesters. “They injured one of my police officers. That’s not cool. It’s a group of criminals that did this. Look at this child. God in heaven help us.”
Quarantines of this nature have not been imposed for close to a century. The Centers of Disease Control believes the method can be effective, but implores authorities to use it humanely, allowing food, water, and medical care to be able to enter the areas in question.
“It might work,” Centers for Disease Control quarantine expert Dr. Martin S. Cetron said to the New York Times. “But it has a lot of potential to go poorly if it’s not done with an ethical approach. Just letting the disease burn out and considering that the price of controlling it — we don’t live in that era anymore. And as soon as cases are under control, one should dial back the restrictions.”
Ebola has killed 1,350 people since its outbreak in the spring, according to the most recent estimate from the World Health Organization. Out of all the West African countries with infected persons, including Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria, Liberia’s death toll has risen the fastest. The nation’s Finance Minister Amara Konneh called the spread of the disease “a threat to (Liberia’s) national existence,” and President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf declared a countrywide state of emergency.
But outrage over the quarantine is part of a larger wave of anger and distress that’s resulted from the outbreak. Ebola hasn’t just killed people who come into contact with it; it’s also had adverse effects on Liberia’s healthcare infrastructure. For example, facilities no longer have hand sanitizer or rubber boots to thwart Ebola’s spread. A recent Buzzfeed article entitled ‘How Ebola Can Kill You – Even When You Don’t Have Ebola’ explains that healthcare providers are turning away patients out of fear, to the detriment of pregnant women and people with treatable diseases like malaria and typhoid.
Liberia’s economy has also been hit hard by the national crisis. Predictions that the country’s GDP would increase by 5.9 percent are now obsolete. As Konneh explained, transport and service sector activity has slowed due to the outbreak, and foreign workers have left the country. Mining, one of Liberia’s lucrative industries, also decelerated, with major companies forcing their employees to leave the country. Border closures further impede trade to the country, causing food and gasoline shortages.
One area where food is currently in short supply in West Point. Attempting to ease tension in the slum, authorities delivered “rice, oil, and essential foodstuffs” to the community. But as is the case in the rest of the country, the situation in West Point remains precarious.