NEW: Sierra Leone is giving itself time to train volunteers and get needed equipment
Lockdown plan calls for residents to be confined to their homes for three days
Volunteers will go door-to-door to talk to people, official says
Medical charity warns the lockdown will drive people "underground"
Sierra Leone started a three-day nationwide lockdown Friday in an effort to halt an Ebola outbreak that has left thousands dead in the region.
Under the plan, no one is allowed to leave their homes for three days, allowing volunteers to go door-to-door educating people on the deadly virus.
Muslims should pray at home Friday while Christians do the same on Sunday, officials said.
But aid agency Médecins Sans Frontières, also known as Doctors Without Borders, said the lockdown is unlikely to stop the spread of the disease.
“Forced quarantines and lockdowns are driving people underground and jeopardizing the trust between people and health providers,” the charity group said in a statement this month. “This is leading to the concealment of cases and is pushing the sick away from health systems.”
“This is leading to the concealment of potential cases and is pushing the sick away from health systems.”
It’s not the first time a quarantine or lockdown has been enforced. In August, Liberia locked down one of the poorest neighborhoods in the capital of Monrovia in an attempt to stop the spread of the virus. Riots ensued.
The deadliest Ebola outbreak in history has killed at least 2,600 people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone – the countries most affected by the virus – since the first case was documented in December.
Sierra Leone set the dates for the lockdown earlier this month to give officials time to train volunteers and get needed equipment.
During the lockdown, about 30,000 volunteers will talk to people across the nation about how to protect themselves and identify Ebola cases,officials said.
The information minister described the volunteers as young people who are trained health workers, medical students and nurses.
“Resistance will be less. They will be talking to people they know,” he said.
He did not say what punishment, if any, people would face if they violate the lockdown.
Ebola typically kills 90% of those infected with the virus, but the death rate in this outbreak has dropped because of early treatment.
Even so, MSF questioned such a plan.
But MSF, which is working with patients in the nation, said this will not be an easy task.
Number of cases on the rise
As the number of new cases escalates, there’s a question of what a lockdown will do to slow the spread of the virus, given that the Ebola incubation period can range between two and 21 days.
The virus is spread through contact with bodily fluids, and early symptoms include sudden onset of fever, weakness, muscle pain, headaches and a sore throat.
More than 3,600 people have been diagnosed with Ebola since the first documented case in December, the World Health Organization has said. Of those cases, there have been 1,800 fatalities, the agency has said.
More than 40% of the cases have been diagnosed in the past three weeks, the agency said.
The outbreak has been centered in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, with a handful of cases in Nigeria. The overall fatality rate is 50%, WHO said.
WHO says it believed that fruit bats may be the natural host of the Ebola virus in Africa, passing on the virus to other animals. Humans contract Ebola through contact with the bodily fluids of infected animals or the bodily fluids of infected humans.
The virus is named after the Ebola River in the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire), where one of the first outbreaks occurred in 1976.
While there is no known cure or vaccine available, the first human trial of an experimental Ebola vaccine began this last week.
Journalist Umaru Fofana reported from Freetown, and Chelsea J. Carter reported and wrote from Atlanta. CNN’s Claudia Dominguez contributed to this report.