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Lockdown Easter: Billions mark festival confined to their homes

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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.

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