ALBANY, New York (AP) – Worshipers around the world celebrated Good Friday from the safety of their homes, while unusual divisions arose in Japan about how to tackle the country’s growing coronavirus outbreak.
Politicians and public health officials had warned that the advances in the fight against the pandemic, obtained with great effort, could not be jeopardized by relaxing social distancing during the Easter holidays. In Europe, where these dates are high travel season, authorities set up roadblocks and discouraged family gatherings.
In Japan, many have criticized Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for his slowness to take action. The Aichi prefecture, home to automaker Toyoto, declared its own state of emergency on Friday, claiming it could not wait for the government to add it to its list.
“The situation is critical,” said Aichi Governor Hideaki Omura. “We decided to do everything possible to protect the life and health of the residents of Aichi.”
Japan confirmed 579 new infections for a total of 5,000, with 100 deaths. The country has the oldest population in the world, and COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, can be especially severe in the elderly.
In a show of how quickly the coronavirus has subdued world economies, 16.8 million Americans lost their jobs in just three weeks. And even more layoffs are expected. The country’s unemployment rate could hit 15% in April for the first time since the end of the Great Depression.
In Britain, its prime minister, Boris Johnson, left the London hospital intensive care unit where he was being treated for the virus. The 55-year-old politician’s health had worsened earlier in the week as his country faced its worst crisis since World War II.
Worldwide, there were more than 95,000 deaths and the number of confirmed cases reached 1.6 million, according to a count by Johns Hopkins University. But it is believed that the actual figure would be much higher due to the limited number of tests carried out, the difference in criteria for counting the dead, and the concealment of data by some governments.
The United States seemed poised to overtake Italy as the country with the most deaths in the coming days. However, in proportion to its population, the United States would have approximately a sixth of those of Italy and Spain, two of the most severely punished countries in the world.
There were also some positive signs: South Korea reported just 27 new cases on its ninth day with fewer than 100; California recorded its first daily decline in intensive care hospitalizations since the start of the outbreak, and Australia and New Zealand this week saw a steady decline in the number of infections.
But a rebound in deaths in Britain and New York indicated the battle is far from over.
The pandemic poses a threat to international security and peace, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said at a closed-door meeting of the Security Council in which he added that he can suspend efforts to resolve conflicts, embolden insurgents. and even offer a road map for a bioterrorist attack.
Faced with widespread restrictions on public gatherings, the main religious faiths hold virtual services that their faithful can follow on television or the internet. Others organize prayers in drive-ins, where people can stay inside their vehicles.
Other churches plan to follow through on their agenda, especially in states like Texas, where the governor declared religious acts “essential services.” A Houston church installed hand-washing places and reorganized the 1,000-person temple to house just 100 two meters (six feet) apart.
Pope Francis will officiate the Good Friday Mass in a practically empty St. Peter’s Basilica instead of the vast outer plaza. In England, the Archbishop of Canterbury will offer his Easter sermon on video.
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei suggested on Thursday that mass gatherings could be banned during Islam’s holy month of Ramadan, which runs from the end of April to May.
In most COVID-19 patients, the virus causes mild and moderate symptoms such as fever and cough, but in others, especially older people and people with previous illnesses, it can lead to pneumonia and even death. Nearly 335,000 people have already recovered, according to the Johns Hopkins count.
Perry reported from Wellington, New Zealand. Journalists from The Associated Press around the world contributed to this report.