Sierra Leone, caught in the grip of the Ebola crisis, is bracing itself for a sharp increase in cases of the killer disease over the Christmas period.The Government is so worried about the situation it has outlawed any seasonal public celebrations and will be putting soldiers on the street to make sure no one disobeys the directive.
The outbreak of the virus, which began a year ago in neighbouring Guinea and quickly spread to Liberia, is now dominating the lives of everyone in Sierra Leone.
The western part of the country, including the capital Freetown where around a third of the population of more than six million lives, is bearing the brunt of the current upturn in cases.
Authorities have instigated what they call the “Western Surge” to redouble efforts to try to keep the virus at bay.
Eunice Peacock, of the District Ebola Response Centre (DERC), admits they are “running to catch up” with the rate of the spread of the disease and would not be drawn on when it would be brought under control.
One of the biggest problems is a refusal by what some claim is up to 80% of the population, a figure disputed by the government, to even acknowledge Ebola is real.
One of the scores of operators at the UK-funded 117 Ebola telephone reporting line said many of the calls she takes are pranks or abusive.
“They will use abusive language on you, they’ll say Ebola is lie, lie, you’re just taking money, most of them that is what they say,” she said.
“They don’t believe. Most of the people they don’t believe in the Ebola stuff.”
The genuine calls get pushed on to the DERC where they are followed up either as live cases or burials.
One of the burial units is run by the Red Cross and again funded by the UK.
It aims to get everybody reported to it collected and buried in the central Ebola cemetery within 24 hours.
Even those who have not died from the virus are collected and treated as if they had the disease – which means getting accurate figures for the number of Ebola deaths is difficult.
We went out with Burial Team 7 into the Wellington area of Freetown – up steep, winding tracks where even four wheel drive vehicles struggled to pass.
There we went to the home of Alie Kamara, a 63-year-old father of 16, who had died on the morning we arrived. He had been ill for some time.
His family said they had a certificate saying he was free of Ebola – but the body retrieval team still put on their protective suits to salvage Alie’s remains before disinfecting the house.
His body was put into two sealed bags after a short Muslim blessing before being lifted on to the back of a truck to be taken to the graveyard.
The team moved on to the next body. Here the daughter of 70-year old Allieu Koroma, Marie, was hysterically throwing herself to the ground.
Again there was no suggestion of Ebola, though there were raised eyebrows when the dead man’s wife suggested he too had a medical certificate proving he was free of Ebola, but that “rats had eaten it”.
As with Alie, Allieu’s body was swabbed, double bagged and put on to the back of the truck.
The bodies of two confirmed Ebola victims were then picked up from a hospital before the team travelled on to a graveyard.
The World War II cemetery has been disused for years, but is now Freetown’s central Ebola burial site.
There is row after row of freshly filled graves, side by side with row after row of empty ones awaiting a body.
No sooner had Burial Team 7 placed Alie and Allieu into their respective final resting places, another group from a different aid organisation turned up to do the same for their Ebola dead.
Moments later the graves were covered by a team of grubby, well-muscled diggers who are never short of work at the moment.