The year-long Ebola epidemic has claimed close to 8,000 lives, with more than 20,000 people infected according to the World Health Organization. The virus is still spreading in West Africa, especially Sierra Leone.
The latest World Health Organization (WHO) figures, released Wednesday, show at least 7,905 people have died from Ebola and at least 20,206 people have caught the virus since it broke out in West Africa about a year ago.
The WHO said that 337 new cases of the hemorrhagic fever were reported in Sierra Leone during the past week, including 149 cases in the capital Freetown, the highest incidence in four weeks.
However, data also shows that the number of cases there over a three-week period has fallen below 1,000 for the first time since September, suggesting perhaps a slowing spread of the virus. In Guinea, the three-week total rose for a second week to 346, suggesting the epidemic is growing there.
Restrictions eased for one night only
At the same time, Liberia - which along with Sierra Leone and Guinea is among the three nations who have had the vast majority of Ebola infections and deaths - eased a night-time curfew which had been in place for the last four months to allow people to attend New Year celebrations.
Liberia, which has long been the country hardest-hit by Ebola, has noted a substantial decrease in transmissions over the past month. The one-night lifting of the midnight to 6 a.m. curfew was to allow citizens in the mostly Christian nation to attend church services, with Justice Minister Benedict F. Sannoh issuing a statement saying he was acting on the orders of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
"All churches and religious organizations conducting worship services on New Year's Eve are advised to abide by all existing Ebola preventive protocols as well as the regulations issued by the minister of health," the statement said.
However a medical charity which has been at the forefront of West Africa's Ebola battle has warned of complacency in Liberia.
"Whilst progress has been made, it is of great concern to everyone at MSF that the population is now much less vigilant about Ebola and health promotion messages are being pushed aside," said Caitlin Ryan, a field communications coordinator with Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres/MSF).
Call for better screening in UK
In the UK, there have been calls for better screening of potential Ebola cases after a Scottish nurse returning from Sierra Leone was cleared to board a domestic flight hours before she was diagnosed with the disease on Monday.
Britain's Chief Medical Officer Sally Davies said the process for screening passengers "does seem to have not been as good as we all want to see." However, she added that the nurse, Pauline Cafferkey, had not been showing symptoms and posed little risk to other passengers.
Doctors at the Royal Free Hospital in north London said Cafferkey was being treated with an experimental antiviral drug and plasma from an Ebola survivor. Infectious diseases specialist Dr. Michael Jacobs said the nurse was sitting up and able to eat, read and talk to family, though adding "I'm sure this isn't how she intended to spend New Year's Eve."
The Ebola virus, which causes vomiting, diarrhea and bleeding, is thought to have originated in bats. In humans it is spread by contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person. It has no known cure.
se/rc (Reuters, dpa, AP, AFP)