TIME Infectious Disease

Inside the CDC’s Emergency Operations Center Tackling Ebola

CDC leaders integral to the Ebola response, including epidemiologists, laboratorians, logistics, and more, assemble in agency’s command center to discuss next steps in directing the response at CDC Emergency operations center in Atlanta, August 8. Spencer Lowell for TIME

The CDC's emergency unit has been called into full-force this week as the Ebola virus continues to ravage West Africa

It’s early Friday morning, just a few hours after the World Health Organization officially declared the Ebola outbreak a global public health emergency, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Emergency Operations Center (EOC) is buzzing. Their recently roused battle room of computer screens and realtime maps of Ebola spread is fielding calls from U.S. hospitals, offering logistical support for workers in West Africa, and is continuously updating data on the rising number of infections.

The daily 10 o’clock meeting spills out of the EOC’s primary conference room, where the CDC’s heads of infectious disease control as well representatives for the State Department and USAID meet every morning to discuss what’s happening on the ground in West Africa. This is where they anticipate and discuss their next moves. Only a couple of days earlier, the CDC activated the EOC to a Level 1 response unit, the highest possible alert, which means everyone with related expertise is called to the table.

CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden Spencer Lowell for TIME

“We have been very concerned at CDC for weeks and months about [Ebola], and we’ve increased our activation to the highest level to surge on a response in Africa,” says CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden, who just returned the night before from testifying in front of the House Committee of Foreign Affairs about the agency’s ongoing efforts to prepare for—and combat—the disease. “This Ebola outbreak is unprecedented. The single most important thing to understand about protecting Americans from Ebola is that [it has to be stopped] at the source in Africa.”

While the CDC has had experts on the ground since the first week of April, it recently announced that it’s sending a surge of 50 more disease specialists, including diseases detectives, laboratory experts and transmission-data analysts, to West Africa in the next 30 days, but those health workers need support from the stateside EOC for resources, data collection and communication.

A large part of the EOC team is made up of Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) officers—health professionals who are part of the CDC’s two-year training program for investigating infectious disease. Kelsey Mirkovic, 29, is a second-year EIS with a PhD in pharmacology who just returned from Gueckedou, Guinea. She was tasked with tracking down infected patients’ possible contacts. “One day there were two deaths of people with Ebola in one village, and 218 people were added to our list of contacts that day,” says Mirkovic. “We are talking about tracking down hundreds of people.”

As of Monday, there were six CDC specialists deployed to Guinea, 12 to Liberia, nine to Sierra Leone, and four to Nigeria, where cases of the virus are beginning to spread in Lagos, the largest city in Africa, much to the dismay of global public health groups.

“If current trends continue, it won’t be long before there’s more cases associated with this one outbreak than all previously outbreaks of Ebola virus combined,” says Dr. Stephan Monroe, the deputy director of the CDC’s National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, who is spending a lot of his time in the EOC these days. “In most of these other countries, the initial event starts in a relatively rural area. So if we can get in quickly and contain it before it spreads, it’s much more effective. If it starts to spread in a large metropolitan area, especially in the very urban slum areas, it will be much more difficult to control.”

Dr. Frieden told TIME that an outbreak in Lagos is likely going to get worse before it gets better. Monroe says the CDC has experts in Nigeria identifying cases and the infected people’s contacts, as well as people helping local authorities with their exit screenings in order to keep infected people from hopping on an airplane and leaving the country. “In order to fully resolve the outbreak, we’re clearly looking at months, not weeks of effort,” says Monroe.

The EOC is also serving as the hub for Ebola containment in the U.S., should the disease present itself here. The CDC is, conveniently enough, just three minutes from Emory University Hospital, where two evacuated Americans with Ebola virus disease are being treated. The CDC has provided care guidelines for U.S. hospitals. And in one nearly windowless room of epidemiologists at the EOC, experts handle several calls daily from U.S. hospitals concerning sick patients with recent travel history to Africa.

As the weekend approaches, the EOC disease specialists start packing up and trickling out, despite a few frazzled workers trying to print off large outbreak maps that could be sent with traveling disease specialists before the day is done. The glow from the wall of computerized data sets and updates fills the room—with large graphs that highlight the early summer spikes in Ebola cases.

The upward trends serve as a sobering reminder that while the day may be done, the work is far from over. And while tired health care workers may be gaining a weekend, we’re still losing time.

TIME Infectious Disease

Nigeria Declares State of Emergency Amid Ebola Outbreak

The country has seven confirmed cases of the disease

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency Friday amid an Ebola outbreak plaguing West Africa, approving more than $11 million to fight the deadly disease. Jonathan’s move comes as the deadly disease has infected at least 1,700 people and left more than 900 dead, mostly in nearby Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.

Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, only has seven confirmed cases and two deaths, but health officials fear that the disease’s arrival there would drastically escalate the severity of the crisis.

Nigeria’s state of emergency declaration comes on the heels of the World Health Organization declaring the Ebola outbreak an international public health emergency, while Liberia and Sierra Leone have also declared similar national emergencies over the virus.

Want to know more about Ebola? Watch TIME’s explainer video above.

 

TIME Infectious Disease

Nigeria Braces for More Ebola Cases Amid Outbreak

A Nigerian port health official speaks to a passenger at the arrivals hall of Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos, Nigeria, Aug. 6, 2014.
A Nigerian port health official speaks to a passenger at the arrivals hall of Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos, Nigeria, Aug. 6, 2014. Sunday Alamba—AP

A bustling city tries to avoid becoming the next Ebola hotspot

Until last week, many Nigerians largely ignored West Africa’s Ebola outbreak: It was several countries away and didn’t seem like an immediate threat. That changed after a Liberian-American named Patrick Sawyer boarded a plane in Liberia while ill with the disease, crossed four countries by air, landed in Lagos, and then collapsed at the airport.

Sawyer died in Lagos days later on July 25, but while being treated he infected at least six other people, including a nurse who died Aug. 5. Suddenly, the government has come under pressure to quickly raise awareness and prepare facilities for more potential cases—all while grappling with a strike by public sector doctors.

The stakes are high. Lagos is Nigeria’s commercial capital and biggest city with 21 million people, in Africa’s most populous country of more than 170 million people. An outbreak in Lagos could bring Africa’s crisis to a whole new level.

Lagos sate health commissioner Jide Idris said this week that doctors didn’t initially realize Sawyer was infected with Ebola, a virus with symptoms similar to other tropical diseases. The government is now screening travelers, obtaining isolation tents in case they receive new cases, and establishing an emergency operations center, while the other five patients with confirmed cases of Ebola are treated in isolation at a Lagos hospital.

But containing the deadly disease takes vigilance. The government’s main focus at the moment is screening incoming and outgoing passengers, treating already ill people in isolation and monitoring people with whom they’ve come in contact. As soon as people who were exposed develop symptoms, they are put in quarantine and tested for Ebola. Health experts say people infected with the virus only become contagious after they develop symptoms, and the virus has an incubation period of up to three weeks.

The government was following a total of 70 people who had primary contact with Sawyer, but the number of people being monitored is growing as the government tracks more people who were in contact with the six infected patients before they showed symptoms.

“It is possible in the first day, probably the second day, in the course of doing this, a lot of those health workers got infected,” Idris told reporters in Lagos. The doctors isolated him “immediately when they realized that ‘Oh this man came from Liberia.’ … That’s when they alerted us.” All of the people infected in Lagos had direct contact with Sawyer.

But more help is needed to contain the disease in Nigeria.

“We need volunteers now, extremely necessary, urgently needed, to assist us in tracking the contacts,” Idris said. “And more importantly to manage those cases that are already in isolation in order to give them a chance for life they need to be properly managed, so we need doctors, we need nurses, environmental health workers.”

Still, the outbreak hasn’t affected daily life in the economic hub of Africa’s largest economy. Even as some concerns mount among government officials, many people say they’re not worried.

“I don’t believe it, I don’t believe what people are saying that is happening in Nigeria,” said 28-year-old Christopher Ukpang, a security guard at an upscale Lagos supermarket. “I’m begging my fellow Nigerians, they should not be afraid of this sickness, it won’t affect us. We should have trust in God.”

Interest spiked after health authorities announced the first confirmed case of Ebola infection of a Nigerian on Aug. 4—and the local media coverage exploded.

“I’m worried about it,” said one Nigerian woman. “In my office they sent out an updated mail to everybody to be very careful and to wash your hand regularly and use the sanitizer.”

Eunice Ojodu, a 50-year-old fruit seller in the city, said she had heard about the disease in awareness messages the government is broadcasting on TV and radio.

“It’s killing people but I haven’t seen it,” she said. “I haven’t seen it and I don’t pray to see it.”

TIME technology

The World’s Top 5 Cybercrime Hotspots

"More cyber criminals are entering into the game at a quicker pace than quite honestly we can keep up with."

A Russian crime ring is suspected of obtaining access to a record 1.2 billion username and password combinations, shedding renewed light on how vulnerable online personal information can be. Cybersecurity firm Hold Security said the gang of hackers was based in a city in south central Russia and comprised roughly ten men in their twenties who were all personally acquainted with each other, the New York Times reported.
Cybersecurity experts say this enormous data breach is just the latest evidence that cybercrime has become a global business—one that, including all types of cybercrime, costs the world economy an estimated $400 billion a year. Complex malicious software, or malware, is finding its way into the hands of hackers not just in known cybercrime hubs like Russia and China but also in Nigeria and Brazil, while expanding Internet access around the world means that there are more potential cybercriminals who can easily acquire online the skills and know-how to join the craft.
“It appears more cybercriminals are entering into the game at a quicker pace than quite honestly we can keep up with [in the US] to defend our networks from these malicious hackers,” says JD Sherry, the vice president of technology and solutions at Trend Micro, a Tokyo-based cyber-security firm.
Here’s a look at the global hotspots for these cyber criminals:
Russia

Crime syndicates in Russia use some of the most technologically advanced tools in the trade, according to Sherry. “The Russians are at the top of the food chain when it comes to elite cyberskill hacking capabilities,” he says. Even before the latest revelations of stolen online records, the United States charged a Russian man, Evgeniy Bogachev, of participating in a large-scale operation to infect hundreds of thousands of computers around the world. The massive data breach of the retailer Target last year has also been traced to Eastern Europe.
But why Russia, and its smaller neighbors? Trained computer engineers and skilled techies in Russia and countries like Ukraine and Romania may be opting for lucrative underground work instead of the often low-paying I.T. jobs available there. But the Russian government has in the past also been less than helpful in helping U.S. authorities track down wanted cybercriminals. “The key really is the lack of law enforcement environment, the feeling that you can do almost anything and get away with it,” says Dmitri Alperovitch, a Russia-born U.S. citizen and co-founder and CTO of security firm CrowdStrike. “They were able to grow and evolve into organized enterprises.”
China

China is considered to be another stalwart hotbed for hackers, though the spotlight has primarily fallen not on gangs of criminals, but on the Chinese government, which has been linked to economic and political espionage against the U.S. In May, the Justice Department moved to charge five Chinese government officials with orchestrating cyberattacks against six major U.S. companies. Unaffiliated Chinese hackers have also posed a problem inside and outside the country, but according to Alperovitch there’s a surprisingly low presence relative to the size of the country. “We can speculate as to why, but the most likely reason is that the people that are identified doing this activity by the Chinese government get recruited to do this full time for the government,” he says.

Brazil

Sherry calls Brazil “an emerging cybercrime economy.” Cybercriminals there and across South America are increasingly learning from their counterparts in Eastern Europe via underground forums. They’ll also pay for Eastern European tools to use in their own attacks, using highly complex Russian-made software that Sherry says can include millions of lines of code. That black market has become so sophisticated that Eastern European hackers now provide I.T. support for customers buying their malware, according to Sherry. So far, most of the attacks that originate in Brazil target local individuals and firms, including the recently reported cybertheft of billions of dollars from an online payment system. “The question is, when will that change?” says Jim Lewis, a senior fellow at the Strategic Technologies Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Nigeria

The original home of low-tech scam emails remains a key player in underground cyber activity and has become a destination for international cybercrime syndicates, according to Sherry. Authorities in Nigeria and other African countries have been slow to crackdown on scammers and hackers, even as more people connect to the Internet. “It’s proving to be a very comfortable environment for cybercriminals to set up shop, operate, and carry out their illegal activities,” Sherry says. Recent efforts by President Jonathan Goodluck to legislate cybercrime in Nigeria have served to push some of the activity into other countries in the region, such as Ghana.

Vietnam

Tech firms in Southeast Asia have a long history of working with Western software firms and other tech companies, Sherry says, meaning there is a broad base of tech expertise there. “People who are really good software engineers, those people are going to be naturals when it comes to taking off the ‘white hat’ and putting on the ‘black hat,’ Sherry says. In Vietnam, where the I.T. industry has expanded at a rapid rate in the last decade, a hacker allegedly masterminded the theft of up to 200 million personal records in the U.S. and Europe that included Social Security numbers, credit card data and bank account information. The communist government there has also been recruiting local hackers to spy on journalists, dissidents, and activists, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

TIME Nigeria

Boko Haram Kills ‘Dozens’ in Nigeria

Families from Gwoza, Borno State, displaced by the violence and unrest caused by the insurgency, are pictured at a refugee camp in Mararaba Madagali, Adamawa State
In this Feb. 18, 2014 photo, families from Gwoza are pictured at a refugee camp in Mararaba Madagali, Adamawa State after being displaced by the violence and unrest caused by the insurgency. Stringer/Reuters

Many have fled the town of Gwoza to escape the slaughter

Residents from the northeastern Nigerian town of Gwoza say Boko Haram militants killed dozens of locals on Wednesday, reports Agence France-Presse.

Townspeople told the news agency that many had fled their homes to escape the violence.

“Dozens of our people have been killed by the attackers, some were slaughtered and many others shot with guns,” said resident James Mshelia to AFP.

Boko Haram is blamed for the killing of more than 10,000 people since the start of its militant Islamist offensive in 2009 across northeastern Nigeria.

Gwoza has experienced Boko Haram’s savage attacks before. The town’s emir was killed by the extremists in May. On Wednesday, his son and successor, Mohammad Idrissa Timta, was said to be missing.

“From all indications, our emir is also missing because we don’t know his whereabouts,” said Halima Jatau, a resident fleeing Gwoza, to AFP.

Locals told a Lagos-based online newspaper, the DailyPost, that Nigerian soldiers were absent during the attack and that the insurgents are now in control of the town.

A high-ranking security official who requested anonymity told the DailyPost that Boko Haram had diverted soldiers’ attention 70 miles (110 km) west to the town of Damboa, before launching a surprise attack on Gwoza.

Boko Haram is also believed to be behind Wednesday’s attack in northern Cameroon that killed 10 people.

[AFP]

TIME Foreign Policy

The U.S. Will Spend $110 Million a Year on African Peacekeeping Efforts

Uganda
A soldier from the Uganda People's Defence Force (UPDF) engages in weapons training at the Singo training facility in Kakola, Uganda Monday, April 30, 2012. The camp provides different training courses run by the U.S. Marines and also by instructors contracted by the U.S. State Department. Ben Curtis—ASSOCIATED PRESS

The plan is to help fund African rapid-response forces that will deal with armed Islamist groups

Correction appended, Aug. 7

During the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington on Wednesday, President Barack Obama unveiled plans to invest $110 million annually over the next three to five years to help six African countries create rapid-response forces, Reuters reports.

At a summit news conference, Obama said the funds the funds would boost African Union and U.N. operations in crisis spots around the continent, using peacekeepers from Ethiopia, Uganda, Senegal, Rwanda, Tanzania and Ghana.” Obama said that the funds are meant to remedy the current “gap in systematically supporting these peacekeepers to help them deploy more quickly.”

The U.S. has become more involved in supporting African military efforts to combat Islamic extremists recently, training over a quarter-million African police and military.

Samantha Power, U.S. ambassador to the U.N., added that the U.S. hoped to create “troop-contributing countries” that would fight off extremist groups like al-Shabab, al-Qaeda affiliates and Boko Haram, which has killed over 10,000 people since it began its uprising in Nigeria in 2009.

Obama also announced intentions to spend an initial $65 million on strengthening security efforts in Niger, Tunisia, Ghana, Nigeria, Mali and Kenya. Along with the funding, Obama unveiled a plan called the Security Governance Initiative, which will help bolster security sectors and other infrastructures that offer crises resolution in Africa.

[Reuters]

Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly identified countries as crisis zones where African Union and United Nations peacekeepers would be deployed.

TIME Infectious Disease

Sierra Leone Dispatches Troops to Enforce Ebola Quarantine

Troops and police have sealed off clinics and homes in hardest-hit localities

Updated 6:09 p.m. ET Aug. 6

Sierra Leone has dispatched 750 soldiers to the epicenters of the nation’s Ebola outbreak to enforce sweeping new quarantine measures as the virus’ global death toll rose to at least 932 people as of Wednesday. Liberia’s president ordered a 30-day state of emergency because of the Ebola outbreak late Wednesday, according to a radio broadcast.

Troops and police have been stationed outside of local clinics and family homes, the New York Times reports, amid reports of concerned family members trespassing into quarantined areas and coming into contact with sick patients and infected bodies. In Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, Reuters reports that relatives of Ebola victims have anonymously dumped infected bodies in the streets rather than face quarantines. Forces have also been deployed in Liberia to maintain order, Reuters reports.

Meanwhile, health experts and epidemiologists convened Wednesday at the World Health Organization to begin a two-day discussion about containment measures and to ensure healthcare systems in West Africa are not overwhelmed by a rising tide of cases. Infections have continued to spread from remote precincts into more heavily populated areas, despite sweeping quarantine measures announced last week by Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea — the three most heavily-hit countries – including school closures and heavy surveillance of at-risk populations.

Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, reported a second Ebola death and five additional cases in Lagos on Wednesday, while Saudi Arabia announced that it was testing a man who reportedly died of Ebola-like symptoms after returning from a business trip to Sierra Leone. However, the cause of the man’s death remains unconfirmed, the BBC reports.

[NYT]

TIME Infectious Disease

Ebola Claims 887 Lives in Africa

CDC Ebola
The Ebola virus in an undated photo provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention CDC/AP

As total deaths from Ebola pass 800, Nigeria reports a doctor who treated their first victim now has the disease

Updated 1:34 p.m. ET

Nigeria reported its second victim of the deadly Ebola outbreak Monday, as the World Health Organization said the death toll from the virus in Africa increased to 887.

A doctor who treated a Liberian-American man who died of the Ebola virus in Nigeria was confirmed Monday to be infected with the disease, making it the second case in the most populous African country.

Nigeria’s Health Minister Onyebuchi Chukwu says there are test samples pending for another three people with symptoms of the disease who were part of the first man’s treatment, the Associated Press reports, and officials are trying to identify and isolate other people who may be at risk.

Emergence of the disease in Nigeria is cause for concern as the virus continues to spread. Health workers are at a particular risk for contracting the disease if they are not adequately protected, and it can take up to 21 days before symptoms of the infection begin to appear. There have been a total of 1,603 cases since the outbreak started in Guinea, the WHO said.

One American with the disease has been evacuated to the U.S. for treatment, and another infected American is due to arrive home Tuesday. For the basics on Ebola, check out the infographic below.

[AP]

Sources: WHO, CDC, Mayo Clinic
TIME ebola

No, The UK Isn’t About To Be Hit By an Ebola Epidemic

GUINEA-HEALTH-EBOLA
Doctors Without Borders staff carry the body of a person killed by viral haemorrhagic fever, at a center for victims of the Ebola virus in Guekedou, on April 1, 2014. Seyllou—AFP/Getty Images

Though an infected person could technically arrive in the UK, the risk of onward transmission is exceedingly low

A Liberian asylum-seeker was tested for Ebola-like symptoms at a British immigration center earlier this week, The Telegraph reported Thursday. The day before, media outlets said another man had been similarly examined in Birmingham, England. Both tested negative for the often-fatal virus.

The United Kingdom’s Department of Health said that Ebola “is not an issue that affects the UK directly.” It added that should an infected person arrive in the UK., there are “experienced people who are ready to deal with [Ebola] if it were to arrive here.” Two agencies under the Department of Health, the National Health Service and Public Health England further pointed out that the threat Ebola poses to the UK is “very low.”

Strangely, this advice has been largely ignored by a number of national media outlets. The Daily Mail, a right-leaning tabloid, questioned whether “the world’s deadliest disease” — which Ebola certainly isn’t — was heading for Britain. For eight paragraphs, the paper told a terrifying tale: A man had arrived in Britain from Lagos, Nigeria with Ebola. According to the Daily Mail, “[Ebola] would soon be spreading across the country, killing almost everyone it touched.”

Then, in paragraph nine, came relief: “Fortunately this is an imaginary situation.”

This clear scare-mongering might be expected of a tabloid, but The Telegraph, a national broadsheet, has also opted for alarmism. In a seemingly impartial report on the Liberian asylum seeker — whose symptoms had been spotted by immigration officials — the newspaper added, with no explanation: “The incident shows how easy it would be for the deadly disease to enter Britain through illegal channels.”

There is no denying that Ebola is a terrifying illness. Approximately 728 of the 1,322 people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the West African countries hardest-hit by the virus, have died of it, according to the World Health Organization. Ebola has no vaccine, no cure and its most terrifying symptom — external hemorrhaging — makes it perfect media fodder.

Though the image of a patient weeping blood is the very stuff of horror films, Ebola isn’t that easy to catch. The virus is spread through contact with the blood and bodily fluids of an infected person, and a person is only contagious when they’re symptomatic.

“It’s not like flu or the SARS [Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome] virus,” says David Lalloo, Professor of Tropical Medicine at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine adds. “You can’t catch Ebola through the air.”

Sitting next to someone with the early flu-like symptoms of Ebola wouldn’t lead to infection. A victim with the later symptoms — hemorrhaging, vomiting and diarrhea would likely be too sick to board a plane.

“The reality is the risk to the UK’s public health is really quite small,” says Lalloo. Though it is possible that an infected person may make it undetected to the UK — Ebola has an incubation period of up to 21 days — they would most likely be prevented from infecting all of Britain. “All [UK health workers] have been alerted to the possibility that people traveling from the region might be infected with Ebola if they’re displaying a fever,” Lalloo adds.

Public Health England, a government health agency, told TIME that comprehensive measures are in place to deal with the potential arrival of an Ebola patient. They have created a detailed algorithm for healthcare workers to assess and treat people suspected of suffering from a viral hemorrhagic fever that may be caused by Ebola. “If there is a symptomatic person on board the flight, the aircraft contacts air traffic control, who makes contact with primary responders and the health control unit at Heathrow [Airport], a Public Health England spokesperson said. “Other airports would send the person to [the] hospital for assessment if that was appropriate.”

Anyone found to have Ebola would be immediately quarantined, and anyone they had contact with would be tested.

“There have been odd cases of viral hemorrhagic fever that have come into the UK,” says Lalloo. However, fast and effective treatment has meant “there hasn’t been onward transmission.”

It’s likely that the media hysteria was sparked by the arrival of an infected Liberian official in Nigeria on July 20. The man later died, and news outlets were frantic that a similar traveler could reach the UK. What wasn’t as widely reported was that the Lagos hospital was evacuated and quarantined, and Nigeria’s current number of confirmed Ebola cases remains at one. As Lalloo points out, the current epidemic “has been going on for three to four months now … the only difference is someone arrived in Nigeria with Ebola.”

The West isn’t about to be hit by an Ebola epidemic soon. Well-resourced and prepared for such diseases, any case will most likely be rapidly contained and dealt with. Ebola is tearing through West Africa because the three impoverished nations of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone lack the facilities and staff to manage Ebola — Western media would do well to focus on that.

 

TIME Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone Declares Health Emergency Amid Ebola Outbreak

"Fellow citizens, this is a national fight, and it behoves all of us to stand together to promote the truth about this deadly disease."

Updated 9:16 a.m. ET July 31

The president of Sierra Leone has declared a public health emergency over a deadly Ebola outbreak that has killed 729 people across West Africa, according to the World Health Organization.

In a statement posted online late Wednesday, President Ernest Bai Koroma said he is implementing for up to 90 days a series of measures aimed at tackling the Ebola virus, including quarantining areas where the disease has emerged and banning most public meetings. Koroma also said he is canceling a planned trip to the United States and instead meeting with regional leaders to address the outbreak.

“Fellow citizens, this is a national fight, and it behoves all of us to stand together to promote the truth about this deadly disease,” Koroma said in the address. “Ebola is real, and we must stop its transmission.

“I hereby proclaim a State of Public Emergency to enable us take a more robust approach to deal with the Ebola outbreak,” he added.

Koroma also called on the country’s parliament to convene and for officials to avoid non-essential foreign trips.

The measures, which came a day after Sierra Leone’s top Ebola doctor, Sheikh Umar Khan, died from complications caused by the disease, are in line with similar policies announced Wednesday in Liberia, which said it would shutter schools.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Peace Corps said it was pulling all 340 volunteers from Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia amid what has become the worst-ever global Ebola outbreak, while two volunteers were isolated after having been exposed to a person who was later killed by the virus.

Sources: WHO, CDC, Mayo Clinic

For more on the Ebola outbreak, see the infographic and video above.

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