MONROVIA/CONAKRY - Crowds sang and danced in the streets of a seaside neighbourhood in Liberia on Saturday as the government lifted quarantine measures designed to contain the spread of the deadly Ebola virus.
Faced with the worst Ebola outbreak in history, West African governments have struggled to find an effective response. More than 1,550 people have died from the hemorrhagic fever since it was first detected in the forests of Guinea in March.
Residents of the impoverished seaside district of West Point in Monrovia were forcibly cut off from the rest of the capital in mid-August after a crowd attacked an Ebola centre there, allowing the sick to flee.
The quarantine sparked protests and security forces responded with tear gas and bullets, killing a teenaged boy.
But at dawn on Saturday, the community woke up to find the soldiers and barricades gone.
"I tell God thank you. I tell everyone thank you," said Koffa, a female resident of West Point. Others danced in the streets chanting slogans like "we are free" while others rolled about on the asphalt pavement in celebration.
President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, a US-educated Nobel Peace Prize winner, has sought to quell criticism of the government's response by issuing orders threatening officials with dismissal for failing to report for work or for fleeing the country, and has ordered an investigation into the West Point shooting.
Liberia, where infection rates are highest, plans to build five new Ebola treatment centres each with capacity for 100 beds, government and health officials said on Saturday.
In neighbouring Sierra Leone, President Ernest Bai Koromo dismissed his health minister Miatta Kargbo on Friday over her handling of the epidemic which has killed more than 400 people there.
Her replacement Abubakarr Fofana on Saturday confirmed that a third doctor in the county had died from Ebola, further hampering its ability to respond to the outbreak.
"It is with a deep sense of sadness that we have lost one of our finest physicians in the line of duty at a time like when we need a lot of them to help in out fight against Ebola," he said.
Physician Dr. Sahr Rogers caught the disease while treating outpatients in the same hospital where a doctor died last month and where British nurse William Pooley was also infected.