The worldwide death toll from the coronavirus pandemic hit 100,000 as Christians around the globe marked a Good Friday unlike any other — in front of computer screens instead of in church pews — and some countries tiptoed toward reopening segments of their battered economies.
In Britain, meanwhile, Prime Minister Boris Johnson was able to walk in hospital on Friday some 24 hours after leaving intensive care treatment for Covid-19, as Britain recorded nearly 1,000 daily deaths from the virus for the first time.
Around the world, public health officials and religious leaders alike warned people against violating the lockdowns and social distancing rules over Easter and allowing the virus to come storming back. Authorities resorted to roadblocks and other means to discourage travel.
In Italy, officials employed helicopters, drones and stepped-up police checks to make sure residents didn’t slip out of their homes. On Thursday alone, police stopped some 300,000 people around Italy to check whether they had permission to travel.
Some churches held services online, while others arranged prayers at drive-in theatres. Fire-scarred Notre Dame Cathedral came back to life briefly in Paris, days before the first anniversary of the April 15 inferno that ravaged it. Services were broadcast from the closed-to-the-public cathedral.
1.6 MILLION INFECTED
The holiday observances came as the worldwide number of deaths tracked by Johns Hopkins University hit a bleak milestone of 100,000 since late December, when the outbreak emerged in China. More than 1.6 million people around the globe have been infected, by the university’s count.
The true number of lives lost is believed to be much higher because of limited testing, cover-ups by some governments, and different counting practices. For example, in places like New York, Italy and Spain, many victims who died outside a hospital — say, in a home or a nursing home — have not been counted.
Deaths in the United States reached about 18,000, putting it on track to overtake Italy as the country with the highest death toll, and about a half-million US citizens were confirmed infected. More than 40 percent of the dead in the US were in New York state. Still, there were signs of hope.
New York state reported 777 new deaths, down slightly from the day before, for an overall toll of more than 7,800. State officials said the number of people in intensive care dropped for the first time since mid-March and hospitalisations are slowing: 290 new patients in a single day, compared with daily increases of more than 1,000 last week.
With the pandemic slamming economies, Kristalina Georgieva, the head of the International Monetary Fund warned that the global economy is headed for the worst recession since the Depression.
In Europe, the 19 countries that use the euro currency overcame weeks of bitter divisions to agree on spending US$550 billion to cushion the recession caused by the virus. Mario Centeno, who heads the eurozone finance ministers’ group, called the package “totally unprecedented ... tonight Europe has shown it can deliver when the will is there.”
As weeks of lockdowns were extended in nation after nation, governments were pressed to ease restrictions on key businesses and industries. After a two-week freeze on all nonessential economic activity, Spain decided to allow factories and construction sites to resume work on Monday, while schools, most shops and offices will remain closed.
Spanish authorities said they trust that the move won’t cause a significant surge in infections. The head of the World Health Organisation, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, warned that a premature lifting of restrictions could “lead to a deadly resurgence.”
In some of the worst-hit countries, Italy and Spain, new infections, hospitalisations and deaths have been levelling off. But the daily tolls remain shocking.
The 605 new deaths announced in Spain were the lowest in more than two weeks. The coronavirus has claimed more than 15,800 lives there, though the rates of contagion and deaths are dropping. Britain recorded 980 new deaths, its highest daily total, for close to 9,000 in all.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson was moved out of intensive care on Thursday after spending three nights there being treated for the virus. The 55-year-old remained hospitalised at London’s St Thomas’ Hospital. “The Prime Minister has been able to do short walks, between periods of rest, as part of the care he is receiving to aid his recovery,” a Downing Street spokesman said.
News of the 55-year-old’s improvement contrasted with the sobering release of the latest official statistics. It brings the total number of fatalities from coronavirus in UK hospitals to nearly 9,000, while the number of confirmed cases in the country climbed close to 74,000.