Freetown - Sierra Leone's government was forced to issue a statement on Tuesday denying that Ebola had been defeated, after hundreds to took to the streets in provinical towns to celebrate what they thought was the end of the epidemic.
Witnesses reported crowds surging into the streets of the northern commercial hub of Makeni, chanting "Ebola is no more" and "Ebola has been defeated".
Locals said celebrations began late on Monday when a group of suspected Ebola victims were released from a holding centre with negative lab test results.
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"This was misinterpreted to mean that the township was totally free from Ebola and the news, which spread like wildfire, sent hundreds into the streets to celebrate," said resident Moiwo Sesay.
"Commercial bike riders and taxi drivers honked their horns and people embraced each other while some kissed the ground."
Riot police dispersed the crowds and slapped a dusk-till-dawn curfew on residents, witnesses told AFP. There were no reports of deaths or serious injuries.
"It was a false alarm by some people with ill intentions," said local police spokesman Ibrahim Samura told AFP.
Makeni, 195 kilometres (120 miles) north of Freetown, is the capital of Bombali district, which is under quarantine along with four other districts as part of a lockdown of more than two million people.
The city has recorded some 220 confirmed Ebola cases, and 172 confirmed or probable deaths from the virus.
Witnesses said similar scenes of celebration unfolded in the northwestern town of Port Loko, the capital of a district of the same name which is also quarantined.
"The government of Sierra Leone has not declared an end of the Ebola virus disease... and is still very busy implementing measures already in place to break the chain of transmission and to eventually contain the disease, which is spreading fast across the country," the Ministry of Health said in a statement.
The communique reminded Sierra Leoneans that the entire country remained under a state-of-emergency which prohibited public gatherings.
Ebola, which has killed around half of those it has infected in the west African outbreak, is spread through bodily fluids, and local health officials said they feared the celebrations in Makeni may have exacerbated the contagion.
The outbreak has claimed more than 3,000 lives this year in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.