Uganda on Saturday lifted a two-month lockdown on two districts at the epicenter of the country’s Ebola epidemic, amid cautious hope that the outbreak could end soon.
Since authorities declared an Ebola outbreak Sept. 20, the East African nation has registered 142 confirmed cases and 56 deaths, with the disease spreading to the capital, Kampala.
The two central districts at the heart of the outbreak, Mubende and Kassanda, were placed under lockdown by President Yoweri Museveni on Oct. 15.
But on Saturday, Vice President Jessica Alupo announced that the government was “lifting all movement restrictions and curfew in Mubende and Kassanda districts with immediate effect.”
The two hotspots were under a dusk-to-dawn curfew, with markets, bars and churches closed as well as personal travel banned.
“The lifting of the restrictions is based on the fact that currently there is currently no transmission, no contact under follow-up, no patients in the isolation facilities, and we are progressing well,” Alupo said in a televised address delivered on behalf of Museveni.
Ugandan authorities said last month that new cases were falling, and the last confirmed patient with the disease was discharged from hospital Nov. 30.
Alupa warned however that the government remained on “high alert” for any resurgence in cases.
The announcement came after local leaders in the two districts appealed last month for the lockdown to be lifted and implored the central government to provide aid to citizens hit hard by the curbs on business.
The outbreak has been caused by the Sudan strain of the virus, for which there is currently no vaccine.
Uganda earlier this month received its first shipment of trial vaccines against the Sudan strain, with more doses expected in the coming weeks.
They will be used in a so-called ring vaccination trial, where all contacts of confirmed Ebola patients, and contacts of contacts, are jabbed along with frontline and health workers.
However, the absence of active Ebola cases in recent days has held up the vaccine trials, according to international health experts working in Uganda.
According to the World Health Organization, an outbreak of the disease ends when there are no new cases for 42 consecutive days — twice the incubation period of Ebola.
Ebola spreads through bodily fluids. Common symptoms are fever, vomiting, bleeding and diarrhea.
Outbreaks are difficult to contain, especially in urban environments.