Economic Devastation Looms on a Good Friday Like No Other

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(Associated Press) Christians around the world observed a Good Friday like no other, at home watching livestreams instead of at church, as pressure mounted on governments to restart some industries and fend off further economic devastation from the coronavirus.

Worldwide, the death toll closed in on 100,000, with the confirmed number of infected topping 1.6 million, according to Johns Hopkins University. The true numbers are believed to be much higher because of limited testing, different rules for counting the dead and cover-ups by some governments.

Politicians and public health officials warned the public against letting the virus come roaring back by relaxing social distancing over the Easter holiday weekend, and they urged Christians to celebrate the holiday safely at home. Authorities resorted to using roadblocks and other means to discourage travel.

In Italy, officials used helicopters, drones and stepped-up police checks to make sure people don’t slip out of their homes over the holiday. On Thursday alone, police stopped some 300,000 people around Italy to ensure they had permission to travel. About 10,000 were given summonses.

Some churches held virtual services online, while others arranged prayers at drive-in theaters. In locked-down Paris, fire-scarred Notre Dame Cathedral came back to life briefly, days before the first anniversary of the April 15 inferno that ravaged it. Good Friday observances led by the archbishop were broadcast live from the nearly empty, closed-to-the-public cathedral.

In addition to the lives lost, the pandemic has slammed economies around the world. The head of the International Monetary Fund warned that the global economy is headed for the worst recession since the Depression.

In Europe, the 19 countries that use the euro currency overcame weeks of bitter divisions to agree on spending $550 billion to cushion the recession caused by the virus. Mario Centeno, who heads the eurozone finance ministers’ group, called the package “totally unprecedented. … Tonight Europe has shown it can deliver when the will is there.”

As weeks of lockdowns were extended in nation after nation, governments were pressed to ease restrictions on key businesses and industries.

After a two-week freeze on all nonessential economic activity, Spain decided to allow factories and construction sites to resume work on Monday, while schools, most shops and offices will remain closed. Spanish authorities said they trust that the move won’t cause a significant surge in infections.

“We wouldn’t be adopting them otherwise,” said María José Sierra of Spain’s health emergency center.

Yet some experts warned that relaxing the two-week “hibernation” of economic activity comes too early.

In Italy, the industrial lobbies in regions representing 45% of the country’s economic output urged the government to ease its two-week lockdown on all nonessential manufacturing, saying the country “risks definitively shutting down its own motor, and every day that passes the risk grows not to be able to restart it.”

Malaysia’s prime minister announced a two-week extension to the country’s lockdown but said selected economic sectors can reopen in phases while following strict hygiene rules.

In the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, people desperate for food stampeded, pushing through a gate at a district office in the Kibera slum. Police fired tear gas, injuring several people.

In Japan, the world’s third-largest economy, many have criticized Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as being too slow to act against the pandemic. In a rare rebuke, the Japanese prefecture of Aichi, home to the Toyota car company, declared its own state of emergency Friday, saying it cannot wait for the government.

“The situation is critical,” said Aichi Gov. Hideaki Omura. “We decided to do everything we can to protect Aichi residents’ lives and health.”

Japan has the world’s oldest population, and COVID-19 can be especially serious for the elderly.

In some of the worst-hit countries, Italy and Spain, new infections, hospitalizations and deaths have been leveling off. But the daily tolls remain shocking.

The 605 new deaths announced Friday in Spain were the lowest in more than two weeks. The coronavirus has claimed more than 15,800 lives there, though the rates of contagion and deaths are dropping.

Britain recorded more than 900 new deaths, for close to 9,000 in all.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was moved out of intensive care on Thursday after spending three nights there being treated for the virus. The 55-year-old remained hospitalized in London. His father, Stanley Johnson, said the prime minister needs to “rest up” before returning to work.

New York state reported a record-breaking number of dead for a third straight day Thursday, 799. More than 7,000 people have died there, accounting for almost half the U.S. death toll of more than 16,500.

“That is so shocking and painful and breathtaking, I don’t even have the words for it,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.