MEXICO CITY (AP) – Mexicans were preparing to celebrate their Independence Day without major ceremony for the first time in 153 years due to current restrictions on public gatherings, applied to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Every year, the president rings a bell at night that is raised in the National Palace in order to remember the call to arms that Miguel Hidalgo made to start the struggle of 1810-1821 and achieve his independence from Spain, closing with the shout « Long live Mexico! ».

Independence Day is formally September 16, but for more than a century the president gives the « shout » the night before, in front of a crowded main square in Mexico City, the Zócalo. However, the ceremony scheduled for this year will be held without the usual crowd of some 100,000 attendees.

The event has not been canceled since 1847, the year US troops occupied Mexico City during the US-Mexico War.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador promised to perform the « shout » Tuesday night, but in front of a select number of guests.

López Obrador generally has no trouble with crowds and doesn’t like to wear face masks, but with more than 668,000 COVID-19 cases and nearly 71,000 deaths, the fourth-highest number in the world, the president apparently thought twice before leading the charge. « Scream » this year.

« It is a ceremony that can be seen on television … We can participate from our homes, » López Obrador said on Tuesday.

He said that during this year’s ceremony he will mention the coronavirus pandemic. « We are going to remember the deceased and their families … We are going to light a torch in the Zócalo, a torch of hope. »

Security has been so tight in the main square that soldiers were sent to provide security and avoid gatherings. The ecclesiastical authorities warned that the military forces had taken control of the area around the Metropolitan Cathedral, at the northern end of the square, but the archdiocese later clarified that the faithful would be allowed access to the temple.