Lockdown Easter: Billions mark festival confined to their homes

Lockdown Easter: Billions mark festival confined to their homes
A man prays by the closed doors of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (AFP)
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Updated 12 April 2020

Lockdown Easter: Billions mark festival confined to their homes

Lockdown Easter: Billions mark festival confined to their homes
  • Churches worldwide closed to curb virus threat
  • US is first country to record 2,000 deaths in one day

JEDDAH: The most significant festival in the Christian calendar will be celebrated on Sunday with billions around the world confined to their homes to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

For the first time in 2,000 years, Easter weekend began with churches and other places of worship closed, and more than 4 billion people — over half the world’s population — under lockdown.

Pope Francis livestreamed his Easter vigil from an empty St. Peter’s Basilica on Saturday, after conducting an empty Good Friday service to begin the festival weekend.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte praised the pope for his “gesture of responsibility” to observe Easter in private. “We will remember this spring as the one in which, for the first time in history, the pope presided over the general audiences and conducted the Angelus prayer by livestream,” he said.

“His words, although spoken far from St. Peter’s Square, which was wrapped in an unreal silence, have reached everyone.”

Worshippers in Rome stocked up on traditional Easter cakes for the Easter weekend, some piling them onto scooters outside grocery stores, eager to maintain parts of the holiday tradition.

In the US, with more than 90 percent of the country under stay-at-home orders, most Easter services are being livestreamed or broadcast to worshippers watching from home. With many churches already short of funds, untouched collection plates at what is usually a busy time of the year are adding to the pressure on their finances.

A handful of US churches said their rights to worship outweighed public health warnings, and planned to go ahead with in-person services on Easter Sunday.

As they did so, the US became the first country to report more than 2,000 coronavirus deaths in a single day, and the global death surged toward 107,000, with nearly 1.8 million people infected.

Europe has so far suffered most deaths and infections, though there were signs that the curve could be starting to flatten in some of the hardest-hit countries. Spain reported 510 new deaths on Saturday, a dip for the third day in a row. Italy said the number of daily deaths was starting to level off, though the government resisted pressure to lift its lockdown, and extended it until May 3.

However, Britain recorded its second-highest daily toll on Saturday. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has contracted the virus, was making “very good progress” after being moved out of intensive care, a spokeswoman said.

In Saudi Arabia, the number of reported cases increased by 382 to 4,033, and the death toll rose by five to 52. One of the new deaths was that of a 33-year-old Saudi man, illustrating that the virus was a threat to every age group, Health Ministry spokesman Dr. Mohammed Al-Abd Al-Aly said.


Militants open fire and burn police car in Philippine town

Updated 04 December 2020

Militants open fire and burn police car in Philippine town

Militants open fire and burn police car in Philippine town

COTABATO, Philippines: Dozens of militants aligned with the Daesh group opened fire on a Philippine army detachment and burned a police patrol car in a southern town but withdrew after troops returned fire, officials said Friday.
There were no immediate reports of injuries in Thursday night’s brief attack by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in Datu Piang town. Nevertheless it sparked panic among residents and rekindled fears of a repeat of a 2017 militant siege of southern Marawi city that lasted for five months before being quelled by government forces.
“We are on top of the situation. This is just an isolated case,” regional military commander Lt. Gen. Corleto Vinluan Jr. said in a statement.
Security officials gave differing statements on the motive of the 30 to 50 gunmen. Some said the militants targeted Datu Piang’s police chief over a feud but others speculated that the militants wanted to project that they are still a force to reckon with by attacking the army detachment in the center of the predominantly Muslim town.
Officials denied earlier reports that the militants managed to seize a police station and burn a Roman Catholic church.
When reinforcement troops in armored carriers arrived and opened fire, the militants fled toward a marshland, military officials said.
The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters is one of a few small armed groups waging a separatist rural insurrection in the south of the largely Roman Catholic nation. The groups opposed a 2014 autonomy deal forged by the largest Muslim rebel group in the south with the Philippine government and have continued on and off attacks despite being weakened by battle setbacks, surrenders and factionalism.
The armed groups include the Abu Sayyaf, which has been blacklisted by the United States and the Philippines as a terrorist organization for kidnappings for ransom, beheadings and bombings.