(courtesy photo)
(courtesy photo)

Aug. 10 (GIN) – Sierra Leoneans filled the beaches, nightclubs and restaurants of Freetown and beyond, celebrating their freedom from the yoke of Ebola by a presidential order.

President Ernest Bai Koroma lifted the ban on Friday, giving the green light to a wide range of activities including sporting events, nightclubs, eating at restaurants after 9 p.m., football/soccer and watching the games on makeshift cinemas around the city.

In an interview with The Guardian newspaper, Adonis Assaf, a 21-year-old student, enthused: “I feel great, I feel like I was locked up in a cage for the past year. It’s so nice to be out.”

Assaf, unable to attend school which closed due to the health emergency last summer, said: “I was supposed to go to college last year to study law. I’m looking forward to be able to do that now.”

Others interviewed by The Guardian included Jessica Kennick. “This is the happiest day of our lives. We give thanks to our president.” But a friend, Martha Panda, cautioned: “We won’t have peace of mind until Ebola is gone. Then we can touch anybody and have our freedom.”

The ban on public events included a suspension of soccer practice by the country’s East End Lions and teams in Guinea and Liberia.

“We were unable to take part in the 2015 African Champions League because we were not training as a team. Our clubs can now go into full scale training,” Sorie Ibrahim Sesay, head of the Sierra Leone Football Association, told the BBC.

While the ban is lifted on public gatherings, a state of emergency and some key restrictions continue, including on traditional burials and Sunday markets.

Business should continue to observe all Ebola prevention protocols, including temperature screening of employees and customers and the prevention of overcrowding, President Koroma said.

“The easing of restrictions is not a sign that Ebola is over,” he said. “It is not. The risk has receded but Ebola has not fully retreated.”

In fact, the country cannot relax until it is free of Ebola for 42 days.

Ebola has claimed around 11,300 lives since late 2013, nearly 4,000 of them in Sierra Leone.

In its latest update, the health ministry listed four confirmed cases of the highly contagious hemorrhagic fever nationwide with only two transmission chains.

Nine of the country’s 14 districts have not recorded a confirmed case in more than 110 days. w/pix by Lisa O’Carroll in Freetown for The Guardian