FREETOWN (AFP) - Sierra Leone has ordered the quarantine "with immediate effect" of three districts and 12 tribal chiefdoms - affecting more than one million people - in the largest lockdown in west Africa's deadly Ebola outbreak.
President Ernest Bai Koroma, in a national televised address late Wednesday, announced that the northern districts of Port Loko and Bombali were to be closed off along with the southern district of Moyamba - effectively sealing off around 1.2 million people.
With the eastern districts of Kenema and Kailahun already under quarantine, more than a third of the population, in five of the nation's 14 districts, now finds itself unable to move freely.
"The isolation of districts and chiefdoms will definitely pose great difficulty but the lives of everyone and the survival of our country takes precedence over these difficulties," Koroma said.
"These are trying moments for everyone in the country." The deadliest Ebola epidemic on record has infected almost 6,000 people in west Africa and killed nearly half of them, according to the World Health Organization's latest figures.
The virus causes can fell its victims within days, causing rampant fever, severe muscle pain, vomiting, diarrhoea and - in many cases - unstoppable internal and external bleeding.
In Sierra Leone, Ebola has infected 1,813 people, killing 593, by WHO count.