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Millions face Easter under virus curbs as US logs 100m shots

By AFP - Apr 04,2021 - Last updated at Apr 04,2021

Empty restaurant tables are seen on Berlin's deserted Unter den Linden boulevard, in front of the Brandenburg Gate on Thursday, amid a coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic (AFP photo)

ROME — Millions of Christians around the world were on Saturday facing another Easter weekend under restrictions because of coronavirus surges, but there was good news from the hard-hit United States as it crossed the milestone of 100 million vaccinations.

There have been worrying spikes in infections in many parts of the world, even as vaccine rollouts gather pace, forcing the reimposition of deeply unpopular restrictions.

Italy began a strict Easter lockdown on Saturday, with the entire country considered a high-risk "red zone" during a time when families usually hold reunions.

At Rome’s normally bustling Piazza Navona, site of the famed Fountain of the Four Rivers, a scattering of dog-walkers and cyclists could be seen enjoying the spring weather.

Shops selling essentials were open in the nearby winding streets, but without the normal throngs.

“It’s getting annoying,” a man who gave his name as Giovanni said of the restrictions, as he walked his dog.

At the Vatican on Good Friday, a handful of onlookers caught a glimpse of Pope Francis presiding over the “Way of the Cross” ceremony in an empty St Peter’s Square, with restrictions preventing large gatherings for a second year in a row.

New curbs were also coming into force Saturday in France, where authorities are scrambling to deal with a dramatic rise in cases that has overwhelmed hospitals in Paris.


‘Feel alive again’ 


Restrictions had been already intensified in other European nations such as Belgium. In Germany, the government scrapped plans for a strict Easter lockdown, but Chancellor Angela Merkel urged people to limit their social contacts ahead of the break.

Across the Atlantic, fresh curbs were also imposed ahead of Easter in Ontario and Quebec, Canada’s two most populous provinces.

And in the Philippines, a lockdown affecting more than 24 million people was being extended for another week as authorities deploy tents and health workers to overwhelmed hospitals.

But there was a step towards normalcy in Jerusalem’s Old City, where a lockdown dampened Easter last year.

There was a modest crowd this year as most major sites opened thanks to Israel’s successful vaccine rollout.

“Last year, it was very hard. We felt like the city was dead,” said Lina Sleibi, a Palestinian Christian who sings at church services in the nearby West Bank holy city of Bethlehem.

Now, “you feel alive again”, she said.


‘Finish this job’ 


The pandemic has claimed more than 2.8 million lives worldwide.

But the United States, the hardest-hit nation, became the first country to administer at least one shot to more than 100 million people — around half of its adult population.

President Joe Biden has vowed to cover the vast majority within weeks.

But infections remain on the rise in parts of the US, and Biden urged Americans to keep wearing masks and taking other precautions.

“We need to finish this job,” he said.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has updated its guidance to say that fully vaccinated people can travel without observing quarantines, although they should still wear masks.

Vaccination campaigns have struggled to gain steam in much of Europe due to supply issues and questions over the AstraZeneca jab.


Crisis in Latin America 


One of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks is devastating Brazil, which has reported more deaths than any country after the United States.

It is the epicentre of an unfolding crisis in Latin America, where infections have soared past 25 million, likely fuelled by a more contagious variant first detected in Brazil.

The devastation in Brazil has frightened neighbours already battling their own surging caseloads.

Peru has gone into an Easter lockdown, Chile has closed all borders, Ecuador announced fresh restrictions and Bolivia sealed its border with Brazil.

Argentina’s President Alberto Fernandez announced late Friday that he had tested positive. He had received the two-shot Sputnik V vaccine from Russia.

The president, who turned 62 on Friday, was in isolation as a precaution but said he was “physically well”.

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