Cameroon launched a massive campaign Sunday for fans to be tested and vaccinated against COVID-19 to fill stadiums in the ongoing Africa Football Cup of Nations the country is hosting. Cameroon and African football officials say only 2,000 supporters turn out for matches at 20,000- to 60,000-seat stadiums because of COVID-19 restrictions and separatist threats.
This is the deafening noise of vuvuzelas from thousands of football fans outside Yaoundé's 42,000-seat Ahmadou Ahidjo stadium. The vuvuzela is a long horn blown by fans to support their teams at matches.
Among the fans is Sylvie Dinyuy, a 21-year-old university student. Dinyuy says COVID-19 restrictions imposed by organizers of the Africa Football Cup of Nations make it impossible for her and her peers to get into the stadium to support African Football.
"I have been blocked because I have not done my COVID-19 test and I have not been vaccinated. I would have loved to watch the Morocco Comoros match at the Ahmadou Ahidjo stadium. Morocco is my favorite team," she said.
Dinyuy and football fans outside the stadium say but for COVID-19, thousands of people would have been present in stadiums to support African men's soccer as they did when Cameroon hosted women's AFCON in 2016.
In 2016, the Confederation of African Football congratulated Cameroon for the massive turnout of fans when the central African state hosted the women’s AFCON.
This year, the confederation said only fans who show proof that they have received COVID-19 vaccines and proof of negative COVID-19 test results no more than 24 hours old will be allowed into stadiums.
Cameroon says spectator turnout at stadiums since AFCON began on
January 9 in Cameroon is very sparse. The government says a maximum of 3,000 fans and supporters turned out in the 20,000-seat stadiums in Limbe and Bafoussam. More than 10,000 supporters turned out at the 32.000-seat stadium in Garoua, a northern commercial city. Fewer than 15,000 watched matches at the 60,000-seat Japoma stadium in Douala, Cameroon’s commercial hub.
Cameroonian football officials say strict COVID-19 measures make it impossible for fans to have access to the stadiums.
Bafoussam hosts pool B AFCON matches. Augustine Awah Fonka is governor of Cameroon's West region, where Bafoussam is located. Awa said on Sunday he launched a campaign for people to get COVID-19 tests and vaccines so they could have access to the stadium.
"During the first match, they did not know certain entry conditions," he said. "This time around, everybody is sensitized, and everybody is mobilized and prepared to watch these great encounters. Tickets are already available at the various sales points, so the populations are invited to go there and obtain their tickets."
Awah said, as an incentive, the government is providing free transportation to stadiums for people who are vaccinated and show proof of negative COVID-19 test results. He said Cameroonian Prime Minister Joseph Dion Ngute on Saturday asked workers and students who meet conditions to leave their offices and schools by 2 p.m. instead of 4 p.m. to attend matches. He says the permission given by Ngute for workers and students to leave their offices early ends on February 6, when AFCON is expected to end.
Before the tournament began on January 9, Cameroon said thousands of fans were rushing to get their vaccines but that vaccine hesitancy in the country is still quite high.
The Public Health Ministry says 4,000 people all over Cameroon have received the vaccine since AFCON started, and that number is too low to bring out a massive fan turnout.
The ministry says fewer than 5% of its targeted 16 million people have been vaccinated. Cameroon has about 26 million people.
In addition, separatists have vowed to disrupt the games in Buea and Limbe, both English-speaking towns hosting football fans, players and match officials for group matches for teams from Gambia, Mali, Mauritania, and Tunisia.
Last Week, Cameroon reported that only about 300 supporters and fans turned out at the 20,000-seat Limbe stadium during matches. Limbe is hosting football fans, players and match officials for group matches for teams from Gambia, Mali, Mauritania, and Tunisia.
The military said separatists increased attempts to infiltrate Limbe and disrupt the games. It says separatists frustrated over their inability to disrupt AFCON matches in Limbe have attacked civilians in neighboring towns, including Buea.
However, the government says troops will protect all civilians threatened by separatists over attending matches.
The government says civilians should turn out en masse for COVID-19 tests and vaccinations so they can watch matches and that civilians in English-speaking towns should help the military by reporting intruders who want to see stadiums empty.