Amid Ebola crisis, Sierra Leone 'cancels Christmas'

There is nothing quite like the holiday season to lift your spirits, even amid a crippling health crisis like the Ebola outbreak affecting Western Africa.

Sadly for the forlorn children of the Ebola-stricken country of Sierra Leone, many of whom surely had been hoping for a visit from Santa Clause this Christmas, all they will get is the Grinch.

“Sierra Leone said on Friday it was banning any public Christmas celebrations as the spiraling caseload of Ebola infections continues to spread alarm,” AFP reported. “Soldiers are to be deployed to the streets throughout the festive period, forcing people venturing out into the streets back indoors, the government’s Ebola response unit said.”

Private celebrations in intimate settings will presumably not be restricted, but any celebration of the holiday will be significantly curtailed this year.

It isn’t merely the residents of Sierra Leone who have been robbed of the most joyous time of the year. For British health workers who return to the U.K. after treating Ebola patients, theirs will be a tragically lonely Christmas, too.

“Public Health England guidelines for returning health workers have just changed,” wrote Dr. Felicity Fitzgerald in The Telegraph. “Anyone who has had any contact with Ebola patients, regardless of whether they were wearing full protective equipment or not is now going to be ‘Category 3’ or high risk. That means, for example, we are only allowed to travel ‘locally’ for no more than an hour.”

Fitzgerald calls these “bizarre, arbitrary” new guidelines for health care workers who have come in contact with Ebola a symptom of a “stigma” that haunts those who devote their time and energy to curtailing the spread of this deadly outbreak.

Ebola stigma is insidious and ubiquitous. Many of our local staff finish their long, grueling and potentially dangerous shifts in the unit to return to homes where their families refuse to sit in the same room as them. They face constant pressure to find a more socially acceptable job.

Friends out here have been de-invited to weddings, had family Christmas celebrations surreptitiously cancelled and politely asked to vacate their rooms for the three week incubation period.

While the concern over the spread of Ebola that dominated the United States in the early autumn has significantly diminished, concern about this epidemic has not abated in Africa and Europe. For many in the affected areas and neighboring regions, it will be a somber, lonesome Christmas. That is all the more reason for those with the liberty to be with their loved ones this year to be thankful for those simple pleasures that make life worth living.

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David Strom 6:41 PM on January 26, 2023