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Fearing a surge in cases over the holiday season and wary of new variants, Nigeria is recruiting religious leaders, churches, mosques and government offices to mobilise its vaccination campaign.

Those worries will likely deepen after Nigeria, on Wednesday, reported its first cases of the Omicron variant that has prompted new travel bans.

Africa’s most populous nation has so far mostly escaped the brunt of the global pandemic that ravaged Europe and elsewhere after coronavirus emerged in December 2019.

Recorded cases are low – around 214 000 registered infections and just under 3 000 deaths since the pandemic began – although that is likely partly due to low testing rates.

But the country of some 210 million people has fully vaccinated only 3.5 million people and given 6.5 million one shot – far off a target of innoculating around 112 million, or 70 percent of the adult population, by the end of next year.

For a religious society like Nigeria, mosques have in the past proven effective in mobilising sceptical communities to get vaccinated as they were with a polio campaign a decade ago.

“The mosques get the largest crowds. It is also a way to reduce the risk and access more people,” said Dr. Atinuke Onayiga, a senior Lagos health official visiting the Ikoyi church.

“A lot of people don’t want to queue up, so we bring it to their doorstep.”

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