Restrictions have been placed on New Year festivities and church gatherings around Nigeria as the country battles a surge in coronavirus cases.
In Lagos, the nation’s commercial capital, “crossover vigils”- overnight church services attended by millions to ring in the new year- have been banned, with the state government imposing a curfew between 12am to 4am.
Many churches in Lagos still plan to hold services which will end before the curfew, with at least fifty percent of the usual capacity at venues.
Government officials have warned churchgoers against breaking covid-19 rules. State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr Gbenga Omotoso, said: “If you flout any of these rules, you can be fined. You will be taken to court and the magistrate will decide on the sanction.
“But it is not just about punishing people. People are being advised to take responsibility. The regulations were rolled out as an advisory and people have been obeying while people who have disobeyed have faced the consequences.”
In several other states across southern Nigeria, government-imposed Covid-19 restrictions mean that these vigils, a key day in the calendar for Nigeria’s estimated 86 million Christians, will not happen this time.
Ogun state has banned all crossover services and any form of carnivals in the state, while in Ondo, the Chairman of the Covid-19 Ministerial Committee, Adesegun Fatusi, said any church or religious group leader caught openly calling people to disobey the government’s order would be fined.
The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) originally rejected suggestions that churches not hold New Year’s Eve services.
But it eventually backed down and asked churches to end their services before midnight instead.
Government officials across the country insisted that the ban on churches is not targeted at Christianity but to ensure the safety of the general public in the wake of a resurgent pandemic.
“We are talking about a matter of life and death,” said Prof. Adesegun Fatusi, Chairman of Ondo State’s Inter-ministerial Committee on COVID-19.
“People have talked about maintaining protocols in the markets and other places, but focus on churches and mosques is because by their designs, they spread COVID-19 more than open places.”
There are similar stories of muted New Year celebrations around the world as many countries struggle to curb new spikes in coronavirus cases.
Festivities are being particularly muted in Europe, amid fears over a new more contagious strain of the disease.
France has mobilised 100,000 police to break up New Year’s Eve parties and enforce a night-time curfew.
In England – where the new coronavirus strain is spreading fast and 20 million people in the worst-affected regions are forced to stay at home – UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged people to follow the rules.
Germany is currently under lockdown until 10 January. The government has banned the sale of fireworks and placed tight restrictions on the number of people who can gather in public.
Health Minister Jens Spahn said the country would have the “quietest New Year’s Eve” in living memory.
And in Asia, the annual New Year light show in the Chinese capital Beijing has been called off. Celebrations are being scaled down in cities across the country.
Japan has cancelled a traditional New Year event at which Emperor Naruhito and other imperial family members were to greet people.
In India, Delhi and several other cities have imposed a night curfew and other restrictions to prevent large New Year gatherings.