MONROVIA, Aug 20 (Reuters) – Police in the Liberian capital Monrovia fired live rounds and teargas on Wednesday to disperse a stone-throwing crowd trying to break an Ebola quarantine imposed on their neighbourhood, as the death toll from the epidemic in West Africa hit 1,350.
In the sprawling ocean-front West Point neighbourhood of Monrovia, at least four people were injured in clashes with security forces, witnesses said. It was unclear whether anyone was wounded by gunfire, though a Reuters photographer saw a young boy with his leg largely severed just above the ankle.
“The soldiers are using live rounds,” said 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.”
The World Health Organization said that countries hit by the worst ever outbreak of the deadly virus were beginning to suffer shortages of fuel, food and basic supplies after shipping companies and airlines suspended services to the region.
The epidemic of the hemorrhagic fever, which can kill up to 90 percent of those it infects, is ravaging the three small West African states of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, and also has a toehold in Nigeria, Africa’s biggest economy.
Liberia – where the death toll is rising fastest – said its Ministry of Health warehouse had run out of rubber boots and hand sanitiser bottles, essential for preventing the spread of the disease.
Still struggling to recover from a devastating 1989-2003 civil war, Liberia recorded 95 deaths in the two days to Aug. 18, the World Health Organization said. Since it was discovered in remote southeastern Guinea in March, the overall death toll from the outbreak has reached 1,350 from a total of 2,473 cases.
Liberian authorities introduced a nationwide curfew on Tuesday and put the teeming West Point neighbourhood under quarantine to curb the spread of the disease.
Witnesses said clashes started after security forces blocked roads to West Point early on Wednesday with tables, chairs and barbed wire. Security forces came in to escort the local commissioner out of the neighbourhood, they said.
Attempts to isolate the worst affected areas of the country and neighbouring Sierra Leone have raised fears of unrest in one of the world’s poorest regions should communities start to run low on food and medical supplies.