MONROVIA, Liberia — As Ebola infection rates fall in Liberia, the information minister urged people on Thursday to not let up on the fight against the virus, reiterating the goal of eradicating the disease by the end of the year.
That target appears unrealistic, with the World Health Organization saying authorities are unlikely to meet the more modest goal of isolating 70 percent of Ebola patients by Dec. 1. On Wednesday, the U.N. agency said only about 20 percent of Ebola cases in Liberia are being isolated.
But Liberians have been cheered by dramatic gains in recent weeks, as the outbreak has begun to slow after spiraling out of control. At its height this summer, nearly 500 new cases were reported every week in the country; in recent weeks, that figure has fallen to around 100.
"This virus must not go with us into the new year," Information Minister Lewis Brown told a press conference Thursday.
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf earlier set the goal of having no new cases by Dec. 25. Brown praised Liberians who have doggedly abided by calls to wash hands frequently and bring sick relatives to clinics, but said the fight isn't over.
Ebola has killed nearly 5,700 people in West Africa this year and sickened nearly 16,000 people, the majority in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. Liberia has recorded the most cases, but the outbreak is currently surging fastest in Sierra Leone. International aid continues to pour into the region.
As part of those efforts, the German government has unveiled what it says is the world's first dedicated medevac plane for Ebola patients.
The Airbus A340-300 is equipped with an isolation unit, two airlocks, an air filtration system and a separate cabin where doctors can decontaminate their protective suits. The plane — refitted by German airline Lufthansa and the country's Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases — can provide comprehensive intensive care on board, unlike the smaller aircraft that have been used for evacuations before, the airline said.
Associated Press writer Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to this report.