Public Christmas celebrations have been banned in Sierra Leone where spiralling cases of Ebola infections continue to spread alarm.
Sierra Leone has overtaken Liberia to report the most cases of the killer virus, recording 1,319 new infections in the last three weeks.
Islam is the dominant religion, but more than a quarter of the population is Christian and public gatherings are common during the festive period.
Soldiers are to be deployed throughout the festive period to force people venturing onto the streets back indoors, the government’s Ebola response unit said.
Under current emergency regulations, bars and nightspots have been shut down and public gatherings are outlawed but there is no general ban on wandering outdoors or working.
Palo Conteh, head of the department, told reporters in the capital Freetown there would be “no Christmas and New Year celebrations this year”.
“We will ensure that everybody remains at home to reflect on Ebola,” he said.
“Military personnel will be on the streets at Christmas and the New Year to stop any street celebrations.”
Mr Conteh did not give the exact dates of the crackdown or specify any exceptions.
In previous local and nationwide anti-Ebola curfews, people have been allowed out to worship and for “essential business”.
UNICEF ups Ebola fight, appeals for more funds
The UN children’s agency (UNICEF) has announced it is scaling up efforts to fight Ebola, including measures to help thousands of children in West Africa orphaned by the deadly virus.
The agency said it had already received the US$200 million ($242 million) it had previously appealed for but now estimated it would need $300 million more over the next six months.
The expanded budget would, among other things, help provide protection services to many of the estimated 10,000 children who have lost one or both parents to the deadly disease, UNICEF spokeswoman Sarah Crowe said.
“This is about restoring family links, retracing, reuniting children with extended family,” she told reporters in Geneva.
Nearly 6,550 people have died in the outbreak centred in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, from the Ebola virus that is taking a devastating toll on children.
Ms Crowe said the additional funds would also help UNICEF, when needed, to take children who have been in contact with Ebola patients to interim care centres for monitoring during the virus’s 21-day incubation period.
The funds will also allow the agency to help tackle the two major drivers of Ebola, lack of early isolation of patients and unsafe burials, she said.
The agency will also train and deploy around 60,0000 community volunteers to help promote “life-saving behaviours”, she said.
The additional funds would also allow UNICEF to help strengthen health care systems which were already poor before Ebola began its murderous rampage through the impoverished countries nearly a year ago.