South Sudanese living in the North walks near a Catholic Church during Christmas day celebrations in the Umbada locality of…
FILE - South Sudanese living in the North walk near a Catholic church during Christmas Day celebrations in the Umbada locality of Omdurman, Dec. 25, 2013.

KHARTOUM - Church leaders in Sudan are asking people to strictly follow government and World Health Organization guidelines this Christmas to avoid spreading the coronavirus.

Some churches have suspended the traditional midnight prayer service to avoid transmission of the virus.

The Reverend Shimal Kuwa, head of the Christ Church in the Isba neighborhood of Khartoum, instructed his clergy to stay home Christmas Eve, but said the church would hold a Christmas service on Friday morning.

“Our new strategy for this celebration is that we don’t expect mass gathering, but we as church leaders will be praying tonight. Let the faithful stay home, pray at home and celebrate Christmas at their home. Tomorrow we don’t expect many congregants and those who will be coming will have to strictly wear face masks,” Kuwa told VOA’s South Sudan in Focus.

FILE - Graffiti depicting the importance of face masks, part of a COVID-19 awareness-raising campaign, are pictured with the Arabic hashtag "Stay aware" on a wall in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, on April 8, 2020.

Sudan’s High Committee for Health and Emergencies, a body tasked with monitoring the country’s health situation, instructed all mosques and other places of worship to conduct prayers in open spaces.

Abuna Mujahid, a leader in the Pentecostal Church of Sudan, said no church should violate the government directives.

“As the church, the Bible teaches us to respect the authorities because we believe the civil authorities are given by God. And the health instructions given are not only in Sudan but worldwide," Mujahid told VOA.

Father Philip Baptist Abbaker, a Catholic priest at Saint Charles Luwanga Parish in Jebel Aulia, said he would celebrate the Eucharist midnight Mass Thursday afternoon. He said the church would provide soap and water in addition to sanitizers for congregants at the church entrance.

“We know the corona now is a problem, so we arranged to keep the distance and all Christians have to wear masks,” Abbaker told South Sudan in Focus.

Salma Gabriel, 41, a Sudanese Christian in Omdurman, thanked the government of Sudan for allowing her group to hold a Christmas carol procession on Thursday.

“This is the first of its kind after the ouster of the previous regime, and as the church, that is already a celebration. We will go for prayer tomorrow morning,” Gabriel said.

Sudan’s military ousted longtime President Omar al-Bashir in 2019 following months of nationwide protests calling for political and economic reforms.

Sudan has recorded more than 20,000 COVID-19 cases and nearly 1,500 deaths, including those of 15 medical doctors.