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Sierra Leone official: Ebola worst could be over

By CLARENCE ROY-MACAULAY and PAUL SCHEMM

Associated Press FREETOWN, Sierra Leone (AP) - The Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone, which has been surging in recent days, may have reached its peak and be on the verge of slowing down, Sierra Leone's information minister said Wednesday.

Meanwhile in neighboring Liberia, which has also been ravaged by the disease, vigorous campaigning for the Senate elections suggests that Ebola may be loosening its deadly grip there.

Alpha Kanu, Sierra Leone's minister of information, told journalists in an online press conference that with the imminent completion of two British-built treatment centers, the worst could be over.

"We believe that now that those treatment centers are ready, the transmission of new cases will start reducing," he said. "I don't think we can get any higher than we are now - we are at the plateau of the curve and very soon we will have a downward trend, once we have somewhere to take people."

Nearly 1,000 British soldiers, scientists and aid workers are already in the country participating in the Ebola fight and the completion of the latest treatment centers will increase the number built to six.

Sierra Leone has about 6,000 of the approximately 15,000 reported Ebola cases in Africa, with 1,200 deaths, but the number of cases is increasing swiftly here compared to Guinea and Liberia.

On Tuesday, Sierra Leone reported 83 new confirmed cases in a single day, including 31 in the capital Freetown.

A report by the World Health Organization last week singled out Sierra Leone for having the lowest percentage of isolating its Ebola patients, just 13 percent compared to 72 percent in Guinea.

Kanu agreed that this had been a challenge in the country and predicted that the new centers would expand the country's Ebola treatment capacity to 1,000 beds and would help get the infected out of the community.

He also said that Sierra Leone would repeat its September shutdown when people across the country had to remain at home while medical teams went door to door.

In September, health officials found 92 bodies and 130 new confirmed cases after their three-day sweep.

In Liberia a further sign of the country's recovery came when one candidate expressed delight Wednesday at how many supporters turned out for a campaign rally for Senate elections.

"They told me that there would only be 50 people but I see four or five thousand people," said Senate candidate Robert Sirleaf, son of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. "That gives me spirit."

Police last week said gatherings are still banned, but political rallies are exempt from the ban.

The Senate election was supposed to have been held on Oct. 16, but that was when hundreds of new Ebola cases were being reported each week. The vote was delayed for two months. The rate of infection nationally is now fewer than 100 cases weekly, and the green light remains on for the Dec. 16 vote. Polling places are supposed to provide buckets of chlorinated water for hand-washing and a clean pen for each voter to fill out his or her ballot.

Some Liberians are concerned that it might still be too soon for electioneering.

"Even if Liberia was declared free of Ebola today, there would still be no need to ... celebrate until Guinea and Sierra Leone are also declared free," said Jerry Filika, a 19-year-old, underscoring that the deadly disease can easily cross borders.

Authorities have warned that cases could still surge again in Liberia, as they are in neighboring Sierra Leone.

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Schemm reported from Rabat, Morocco. Associated Press writers Jonathan Paye-Layleh and Wade Williams in Monrovia, Liberia contributed to this report.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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