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Ebola virus threatens Liberian slum after residents raid quarantine center

Individuals disputing the veracity of the Ebola outbreak stormed a clinic; patients and bloodstained sheets go missing

Liberian officials said Sunday that they feared Ebola could soon spread through the capital's largest slum after residents raided a quarantine center for people with suspected infections, freeing patients and stealing items that include bloodstain sheets and mattresses.

The raid in the West Point slum of Monrovia occurred late Saturday and was led by residents angry that patients were brought from other parts of the capital to the holding center, said Tolbert Nyenswah, assistant health minister. It was not immediately clear how many patients had been at the center.

West Point residents went on a "looting spree," stealing items from the clinic that were likely infected, said a senior police official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the press. The residents took mattresses, sheets and blankets that had bloodstains, which could spread the deadly virus.

According to Agence France-Presse, at least 17 patients infected with Ebola were unaccounted for after the raid.

The AFP’s report also indicated that the men who had broken into the center believe the Ebola outbreak is a fiction.

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Participants in the raid, mostly young men armed with clubs, shouted that "there's no Ebola" in Liberia as they broke into the quarantine center, Rebecca Wesseh, a witness, said.

The incident raises fears of new infections in Liberia, which was already struggling to contain the outbreak. The West Point neighborhood where the raid took place is home to an estimated 60,000 to 100,000 people.

This year’s outbreak of Ebola — the worst in history — has so far killed 1,145 people in West Africa, including 413 in Liberia, according to the World Health Organization.

Meanwhile, in East Africa, Kenya took steps to prevent the virus from spreading. The government announced Saturday that it would bar travelers from three West African countries hit by Ebola.

The suspension is effective midnight Tuesday for all ports of entry for people traveling from or through Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, said Kenya's Health Ministry. Nigeria was not included in the ban, which also allows entry to health professionals and Kenyans returning from those countries.

"This step is in line with the recognition of the extraordinary measures urgently required to contain the Ebola outbreak in West Africa," the Health Ministry said. It cited the World Health Organization's recent statement that the magnitude of the Ebola outbreak has been underestimated.

Following the government's announcement Saturday, Kenya Airways said it would suspend flights to Liberia and Sierra Leone. Kenya Airways, a major transport provider in Africa, had wrestled with the decision whether to continue flying to West Africa during the Ebola outbreak. Its suspension of flights is an abrupt reversal of its announcement Friday that it would continue flying.

Social commentators, medical experts and Kenyan politicians said they feared the airline was putting profits ahead of prudence, and that KQ, as the airline is known, would spread Ebola. The airline flies more than 70 flights a week to West Africa, but chief executive Titus Naikuni told a news conference Thursday that the airline's flight decisions had nothing to do with money.

The airline said flights actually help to contain the Ebola outbreak by transporting medical staff, supplies and equipment to West Africa.

But doctors representing the Kenya Medical Association had asked Kenya Airways to suspend flights to the four countries affected by Ebola "until things stabilize." Members of parliament also called on the carrier to halt its West African operations.

Several airlines have already suspended flights to Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, including British Airways, Emirates Airlines, Arik Air and ASKY Airlines. Nigeria became the fourth Ebola-affected country late last month after a Liberian-American man sick with the disease flew to Lagos on an ASKY flight and infected several people before he died.

Cameroon, which borders Nigeria, announced Friday it would suspend all flights from all four Ebola-stricken countries. Korean Air announced on Thursday it would temporarily halt its service to Kenya despite the fact there are no cases of Ebola in the country.

Ebola-affected countries are suffering economically as international airlines restrict flights, companies scale down regional operations and much commercial trade is put on hold, said the World Bank. The bank, with the International Monetary Fund, reduced this year's economic growth estimate for Guinea to 3.5 percent, down from their original projection of 4.5 percent growth.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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