The worldwide death toll from coronavirus has 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.
The death toll approached the grim milestone as some countries edged towards reopening segments of their battered economies.
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 did not slip out of their homes. On Thursday alone, police stopped some 300,000 people around Italy to check whether they had permission to travel. About 10,000 were issued summonses.
Some churches held services online. 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.
The death toll kept by Johns Hopkins University hit the sad milestone, though the true number of lives lost is believed be much higher because of limited testing, different rules for counting the dead and cover-ups by some governments. The number confirmed to be infected was more than 1.6 million.
In the US, deaths climbed past 16,700, with close to half 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.
There is a light at the end of the tunnel
“I understand intellectually why it’s happening,” said governor Andrew Cuomo. “It doesn’t make it any easier to accept.”
But 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.
Mr Cuomo said if the trend holds, New York might not need the overflow field hospitals that officials have been scrambling to construct.
“There is a light at the end of the tunnel,” said Dr Jolion McGreevy, medical director of Mount Sinai Hospital’s emergency department. “It’s getting better, but it’s not like it’s going to just drop off overnight. I think it’s going to continue to slowly decline over the next weeks and months.”
With the pandemic slamming economies, 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 550 billion dollars to cushion the recession caused by the virus. Mario Centeno, who heads the eurozone finance ministers’ group, called the package “totally unprecedented”.
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 non-essential 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 will not cause a significant surge in infections.
“We wouldn’t be adopting them otherwise,” said Maria Jose Sierra of Spain’s health emergency centre.
The head of the World Health Organisation, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, warned that a premature lifting of restrictions could “lead to a deadly resurgence”.
In Italy, the industrial lobbies in regions representing 45% of the country’s economic output urged the government to ease its two-week lockdown on all non-essential manufacturing, saying the country “risks definitively shutting down its own motor, and every day that passes the risk grows not to be able to restart it”.
Italy reported 570 additional deaths for a running total of more than 18,800 — the highest of any country — but said the number of hospital admissions is falling along with the number of patients in intensive care.