“The outbreak of Ebola virus disease in Liberia is over,” read WHO representative Dr. Alex Gasasira from prepared remarks made at Monrovia’s emergency command center. Prior to his announcement, epidemiologist Luke Bawo showed a map of Liberia, with all regions in green and the number “42” superimposed. The number represents twice the maximum incubation period of Ebola, and the number of days that had passed since the safe burial of the last confirmed Ebola victim in Liberia. Based on WHO’s official benchmarks, this is the number of days needed to have passed since the last burial without any further cases, in order to declare a country free of the virus.
In her own statement, Liberia President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf thanked her country’s people for fighting Ebola, and also thanked those around the world “whose hearts were with us” during the protracted epidemic. She added, however, that people should “stay mindful and vigilant” despite the celebratory vibe. And, in a symbolic gesture, she started shaking hands, something that would have been taboo during the days and weeks in which Liberia was gutted by the Ebola epidemic.
Meanwhile, Guinea and Sierra Leone have yet to be declared Ebola-free, which remains a concern for health officials. Both countries reported nine cases each in the past week, which is the lowest weekly total so far in 2015. According to WHO Ebola response head Dr. Bruce Aylward, there’s a possibility there are hidden chains of transmission taking place in both nations. “We don’t know where that virus is,” he warned, adding that it was several months from the first report of single-digit cases per week in Liberia before the country finally reported zero cases.