CONAKRY (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – In Guinea, whose government has been struggling to contain a deadly Ebola outbreak since earlier this year, fear and panic are leading foreign investors to leave the country and local workers are staying at home, threatening to bring the economy to a standstill.
A total of 98 people are thought to have died from the disease in Guinea and 10 in neighbouring Liberia, according to aid workers and governments. There are 20 suspected cases in the Guinean capital Conakry.
“Ebola is very bad for business,” said Cheick Fanta Mady Camara, Secretary General for the Guinea Chamber of Commerce. “Trade is based on the exchange of goods and ideas, but people are too scared to shake hands, or leave their homes.”
Since Senegalese singer/politician Youssou N’dour cancelled his Conakry concert last Saturday, flights leaving the city have been full, while incoming flights have been almost empty, according to an airline employee at Gbessia airport.
One outgoing Brussels Airlines flight carried 200 passengers last week, while the incoming flight carried just 55 people, according to passenger flight lists seen by Thomson Reuters Foundation.
In Conakry, normally a bustling city of two million people, hotels, guesthouses and restaurants – formerly full of mining executives looking for opportunities in Africa - now lie empty, some without a single booking for weeks ahead, hotel staff say.
The luxury Palm Camayenne Hotel, popular among businessmen and politicians, is running at less than one third of occupancy and aid workers have replaced businessmen as its guests, according to a receptionist.
But World Health Organisation (WHO) spokesman in Guinea Tarik Jasarevic said Red Cross visits to schools, a televised speech by President Alpha Conde, and WHO posters were helping to restore calm to the city.
“I haven’t seen panic at all in Conakry, although I can’t speak for other places. People are worried of course, for good reason,” Jasarevic told Thomson Reuters Foundation.
CONFIDENCE, KNOWLEDGE HELP STOP EBOLA
Conde appealed in his broadcast for calm in the face of a national emergency, but many Guineans say the government has kept them in the dark about the authorities’ handling of the Ebola outbreak.
The Medecins Sans Frontieres chief epidemiologist in the region of Gueckedou, where the largest death toll has been recorded, says that fear and panic are completely natural and are fuelled by poor communication.
"To stop fear and panic you need knowledge, to stop Ebola you need the confidence of the population," the MSF’s Michel van Herp told Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“We are scared. We’ve seen the movie, “Outbreak”. The government should have quarantined Gueckedou, but instead they let it spread to Conakry. How can we trust them now? We have to look after ourselves,” said Conakry resident Dede Diallo.
Diallo, like many other residents, has stopped going to work and stopped sending her children to school in case they catch the virus from another child, and this has reduced the family income and pushed up their utility bills.
“I have a much smaller income and a much higher expenditure as the house is full all day and night so I have to pay for extra food and the generator,” said Diallo, whose husband has taken a month off work from the national water board.
Camara of the Chamber of Commerce said production would fall if many people took time off work on the pretext of being ill or tired, and called for national unity in battling the Ebola outbreak.
“We have to fight against this new disease, but let the health workers do their job and you do your job,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Emma Farge in Dakar)