Billions around the world marked the Easter holiday in lockdown as the coronavirus pandemic death toll steadily climbed worldwide.
More than half of humanity is confined to their homes as governments scramble to contain the disease’s deadly march across the globe.
Fatalities soared past 113,000 over the weekend, with more than 1.84 million infected, though there was a shred of hope in some hard-hit countries as numbers started levelling out.
Europe has so far shouldered the burden of the virus: more than 80% of all deaths have been on the continent, mostly in hard-hit Italy, Spain, France and Britain.
But on Sunday there was a glimmer of good news from Italy, which reported the lowest daily death rate in three weeks, boosting hopes the curve there might be starting to flatten there, and numbers in France dipped too.
Italy has for weeks held the grim top spot for the most fatalities — but has now been overtaken by the United States which reported more than 20,000 dead this weekend.
Britain passed its own grave threshold on Sunday too as its death toll topped 10,000.
British PM leaves hospital
Virus-stricken British Prime Minister Boris Johnson thanked medics for saving his life after he left hospital on Easter Sunday. He said Britain would beat the pandemic as he thanked his medical staff in a candid video message after he was discharged from a state-run National Health Service (NHS) hospital.
“I hope they won’t mind if I mention in particular two nurses who stood by my bedside for 48 hours when things could have gone either way,” said 55-year-old Johnson, who was diagnosed with the virus at the end of March and admitted to hospital last Sunday where he spent three days in intensive care.
He said he was discharged after “a week in which the NHS has saved my life, no question,” speaking in a suit and tie but looking visibly worn.
The leader is expected to rest up at a country estate before returning to work.
‘Easter of solitude’
From the Vatican to Panama and the Philippines, there were unprecedented scenes of empty churches as the world’s two-billion plus Christians celebrated Easter from the confines of their homes.
Speaking from a near-empty Saint Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, Pope Francis offered prayers for the ill and urged European “solidarity” to fight the outbreak.
“For many, this is an Easter of solitude lived amid the sorrow and hardship that the pandemic is causing, from physical suffering to economic difficulties,” he said in a livestreamed message beamed around the world.
On the outskirts of Rome, one devout follower held a video session with friends to mark the holy day in lieu of being able to gather in church.
“Before lunch, six of us connected online for the Angelus prayer,” said Rosa Mastrocinque, adding that her “spirituality has increased” during her weeks-long confinement.
The pope had earlier urged creativity to mark the holy weekend – a call that was met by many.
In Panama, an archbishop blessed his nation from a helicopter, while one priest in Portugal addressed the faithful from the open top of a moving convertible car and US President Donald Trump said he would follow Easter services online.
In one church north of the Philippine capital Manila, hundreds of pictures of parishioners were taped to pews as a priest led a Sunday service in a near-empty sanctuary.
“We also feel their presence virtually,” said Father Mark Christopher De Leon.
“This is our way of being with them, praying for them spiritually, praying for them, praying for their safety.”
‘Far from victory’
As virus-tinged Easter celebrations were held worldwide, there was cautious optimism that the number of deaths and infections could be starting to peak in some hard-hit countries.
Italy reported 431 new deaths, its lowest daily toll in three weeks, while France said its daily toll fell Sunday, and intensive care patients also decreased for the fourth day running.
Spain saw its daily fatalities drop for three days straight – but on Sunday reported a slight spike again with 619 fresh fatalities.
Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez warned there could still be tough times ahead, even as the number of new infections continued to slow.
“We are still far from victory, from the moment when we will recover normality in our lives,” Sanchez said in locked-down Spain.
“We are all keen to go back out on the streets… but out desire is even greater to win the war and prevent a relapse,” he added.
In the United States, New Orleans and hardest hit New York saw a slowdown in the number of new infections, deaths and hospitalizations.
Trump said this past week that the disease was near its peak in the US and he was considering ways to reopen the world’s biggest economy as soon as possible.
Mumbai slums hit
Despite positive indications emerging in some countries, the World Health Organization has warned countries against lifting lockdown restrictions too early.
Life in the central Chinese city of Wuhan has started to creep back to normal after lockdown measures were eased, but the country is now seeing more imported infections – compounding fears of a second virus wave.
Governments around the world are under pressure to keep populations safe while preventing the collapse of their economies, amid warnings from the International Monetary Fund of a downturn not seen since the Great Depression.
The world’s top oil-producing countries held an emergency videoconference on Sunday to address the problem of plummeting oil prices caused by the pandemic.
There were also worrying signs the virus could be taking hold in new – and vulnerable – parts of the world.
Conflict-wracked Yemen reported its first case last week, while in Mumbai’s crowded Dharavi slum – one of Asia’s biggest and the inspiration for the 2008 Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire – more than 43 cases have been confirmed.
All shops, except pharmacies, were closed near so-called “containment zones” to limit the number of people in public spaces.
“We have been running extensive medical camps in Dharavi and other areas of Mumbai to test more people for coronavirus and make sure carriers are not ignored,” said Mumbai official Khabale-Patil.