Sierra Leone is banning public Christmas celebrations to help reduce the spread of the Ebola virus.
A government spokesman told reporters Friday that all public celebrations would be banned starting December 20, five days before the holiday. However, the government order will not bar people from attending church on Christmas.
The spokesman, Abdulai Bayraytay, said the measure was aimed at reducing physical contact among people in public in order to slow transmission of the virus.
Critics said the ban would do nothing to contain the virus and would infringe upon freedom of religion as enshrined in Sierra Leone's constitution.
The World Health Organization said this week that Sierra Leone has become the hardest-hit nation in the West African region where the Ebola outbreak is centered.
Sierra Leone has recorded more than 8,000 cases of Ebola infection and nearly 1,900 deaths. The World Health Organization said 18,188 Ebola cases and 6,583 deaths have been reported overall (in Liberia and Guinea as well as Sierra Leone).
Most people in Sierra Leone are Muslims, but there also is a sizable population of Christians.