UNITED NATIONS – Underscoring the ongoing threat of the Ebola virus in Sierra Leone, government officials have banned public celebrations of the Christmas and New Year’s holidays throughout the West African nation.

Fearing the virus will spread to rural villages as people go home to celebrate, Sierra Leone officials warned Friday that military personnel will be on the streets at Christmas and the New Year to stop any street celebrations.

Palo Conteh, Sierra Leone’s Minister of Defense and National Security, told reporters on Friday there will be “no Christmas and New Year celebrations this year.”

“We will ensure that everybody remains at home to reflect on Ebola.”

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As WND reported Thursday, while focus on the Ebola outbreak has faded in the U.S. and the death toll in Guinea and Liberia has eased, the virus is still “running ahead” of efforts to contain it in West Africa, with Sierra Leone now becoming the epicenter, according to Dr. Margaret Chan, director general of the World Health Organization.

The WHO reported 6,317 confirmed cases in Sierra Leone, compared to 2,830 in Liberia and 2,035 in Guinea.

Sierra Leone officials also ordered a two-week “lockdown” in the country’s eastern diamond-mining district of Kono after officials from the World Health Organization found Ebola raging out of control in the area.

“Our team met heroic doctors and nurses at their wits end, exhausted burial teams and lab techs, all doing the best they could but they simply ran out of resources and were overrun with gravely ill people,” said Dr. Olu Olushayo, WHO national coordinator for Ebola epidemic response.

“In districts like Kono, with moderate transmission confined to limited villages and chiefdoms, the best chance of eliminating transmission is through aggressive and comprehensive case investigation and contact tracing,” he said, noting scattered villages in eight of the 15 chiefdoms are affected.

Reacting on intelligence gathered by the Ministry of Health of Sierra Leone, WHO sent a seasoned field epidemiologist to Kono 10 days ago to tease out whether reported Ebola cases told the whole story.

Cases go unreported for a variety of reasons and are exacerbated when overwhelmed and under-resourced frontline workers are unable to reach remote areas to get the truth from reluctant villagers, WHO said in a Dec. 10 statement released from Freetown, the Sierra Leone capital.

In 11 days, two WHO teams buried 87 bodies, including a nurse, an ambulance driver and a janitor drafted to remove bodies as they piled up at the only area hospital, ill equipped to deal with the dangerous pathogen.

As of Dec. 9, the WHO reported the district of more than 350,000 people officially has 119 reported cases.

Upon hearing the WHO findings, Dr. Amara Jambai, director of disease prevention and control in the Sierra Leone Ministry of Health, invoked a local saying to describe what remains yet to be discovered: “We are only seeing the ears of the hippo.”

According to Emmanuel Lebbie, a local official of Sierra Leone’s Independent Media Commission, people will be able to move freely within the Kono district, but no one will be permitted to enter or leave, effectively putting Kono under quarantine.

Meanwhile, clinical trials of a promising Ebola vaccine developed by the Canadian government have been halted after four patients complained of joint pains.

And in the U.S., HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell declared, under the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act, immunity against prosecution for the manufacture and testing of three promising Ebola vaccines being developed by U.S. firms.

Officials at the University Hospital of Geneva decided to suspend the experimental testing of the Ebola vaccine donated by the National Laboratory of Microbiology in Winnipeg after symptoms of joint pain were reported by patients 10 to 15 days after receiving an injection of the experimental Canadian vaccine.

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