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Liberia Declares State of Emergency as Ebola Toll Soars

Liberian soldiers walk through streets to prevent panic as fears of the deadly Ebola virus spread in the city of Monrovia, Liberia, Friday, Aug 1, 2014. U.S. health officials warned Americans not to travel to the three West African countries hit by the wo

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Wednesday declared a 90-day state of emergency in the wake of the country’s soaring Ebola death toll, which is now at 271, including 32 health care workers.

Sirleaf said her government will “institute extraordinary measures, including, if need be, the suspension of certain rights and privileges.”

Information Minister Lewis Brown said President Sirleaf has described the Ebola epidemic as a clear and present danger to the collective survival of the Liberian state.

“The president is responding to the grave situation we now confront. It is obviously a clear and present danger to the collective survival of our nation, and she has elevated our national emergency to this very high level,” he said.

Sirleaf said the Ebola epidemic was having a “chilling effect” on the overall health care delivery of the country.

She said the number of confirmed, probable and suspected Ebola cases in Liberia has risen to 500. Sirleaf said health care practitioners were afraid to accept new patients out of fear of being infected with the disease.

Brown said the protection of health care workers has become an urgent priority.

“This is why a part of the phased reopening process is to provide additional training to health care workers to ensure that we don’t lose anymore health care workers to this disease,” he said.

He said the government is providing additional protective equipment, but stressed that it was even more important for health care workers to get training that will prepare them mentally for the Ebola challenge.

In response to the crisis, the government has already established a National Task Force and instructed all non-essential government employees to stay home for 30 days.

It has also closed schools and authorized the fumigation of all public buildings and the closing of markets in affected areas.

Brown said that although Liberians enjoy the right to move freely, it is necessary to curtail some rights because of the epidemic.

“As I speak to you, Operation White Shield has been launched. It is expected to gain full operational status by Friday. Operation White Shield is a sort of quarantining operation by the military to ensure that we restrict the movement of people from affected communities to unaffected communities,” he said.