JEDDAH: Pope Francis has urged people to try to take away something good “even from the difficult situation that the pandemic forces on us.”
Addressing the faithful gathered a safe distance apart in St. Peter’s Square, Francis called for “greater sobriety, discreet and respectful attention to neighbors who might be in need, and some moments of simple prayer in the family.”
The pope’s plea follows the latest Reuters tally which showed that almost 62 million people are believed to be infected by the coronavirus globally, while the death toll has reached almost 1.5 million.
During the pandemic, Pope Francis has often highlighted the economic and social suffering of many around the world.
His latest appeal came as coronavirus deaths in Turkey rose to a record for the seventh consecutive day on Sunday, while Lebanon planned to gradually ease restrictions from Monday.
The number of new cases soared despite efforts by President Tayyip Erdogan’s government to contain a second wave of infections.
“Don’t leave your houses this week. We have to be on alert,” Ismail Cinel, head of the Turkish Society of Intensive Care, warned on Saturday as death rates reached new highs.
Official data from the Health Ministry showed 182 fatalities and 30,103 coronavirus infections in just 24 hours, including asymptomatic cases, according to a recently updated counting method used since Nov. 25. The country previously only reported symptomatic cases.
With the new tally, Turkey suddenly became the world’s worst-hit country, while only four days ago it was one of the least affected.
“Our health army is under a heavy burden,” Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said on Twitter.
In Lebanon, Hamad Hassan, the acting health minister, said the country “will gradually reopen from Monday” to give people and businesses a respite ahead of Christmas and end-of-year holidays.
Schools would also reopen but with some classes still held online, Hassan said after a meeting of Lebanon’s coronavirus task force.
The death toll in Lebanon has reached 1,000, while the total number of confirmed cases has jumped to more than 126,000, with a rate of more than 1,200 cases per day during the past two weeks.
Lebanon’s Civil Emergency Authority warned that the easing of curbs “will lead to a health crisis affecting the most vulnerable, namely children and students.”
The overnight curfew will start at 11 p.m. instead of 5 p.m. and end at 5 a.m., with restaurants, cafes and malls closing at 10 p.m.
During its meeting on Sunday, the task force decided to restore normal traffic flows, but maintained a ban on social activities, cinemas and nightclubs.
Hassan said that earlier restrictions on vehicle use had doubled the number of coronavirus cases due to people’s reliance on shared transport.
Abdul Rahman Al-Bizri, an infectious disease specialist and member of the emergency coronavirus committee, criticized a lack of coordination between government departments in dealing with pandemic.
He said that this had created chaos, while “citizens paid a high price in light of the difficult economic and living conditions.”
Al-Bizri said: “The repeated closures have been unsuccessful, and one of their consequences is the decline in economic activity and living conditions.”