Christians around the world have celebrated Easter Sunday isolated in their homes by the coronavirus while priests preached the faith’s joyous news of Christ’s resurrection to empty pews.
In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson was released from a London hospital after a week recovering from COVID-19 in which he spent some time in the intensive care unit and was given oxygen at one point.
He credited health workers for saving his life and especially thanked two nurses – one from New Zealand and another from Portugal – who stood by his bedside for 48 hours “when things could have gone either way”.
The strangeness of this Easter was evident at the Vatican. St Peter’s Square, where tens of thousands would normally gather to hear Pope Francis, was empty of crowds, ringed by police barricades. Francis celebrated Easter Mass inside the largely vacant basilica.
In his address, the pontiff called for global solidarity to confront the “epochal challenge” of the pandemic. He urged political leaders to give hope and opportunity to the millions laid off work.
Worldwide, families who normally would attend church in their Easter best and later gather for festive meals instead were hunkered down at home.
Police checkpoints in Europe and outside closed churches elsewhere left the faithful with few worship options other than watching services online or on TV.
Some US pastors went ahead with in-person services despite state or local bans on large gatherings.
But most churches were empty, including St Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City which is now the epicentre of the pandemic in the US.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who led a televised Mass, said he was pleased congregants could have a virtual celebration.
“We miss you though,” he added. “We’d rather you be here physically.”
In the morning, members of churches from across New York sang Christ the Lord is Risen Today from balconies and windows.
“Even if you didn’t hear everyone, God heard everyone,” said Kathy Keller, of Reedemer Presbyterian Church, who helped organise the event online.
In Europe, countries used roadblocks, fines and other tactics to keep people from travelling over an Easter weekend with beautiful spring weather.
The Italian government said weekend police patrols resulted in more than 12,500 people being sanctioned and 150 facing criminal charges for allegedly violating lockdown measures.
On the hopeful side, officials said Italy recorded the lowest number of new coronavirus victims in three weeks, with 431 people dying in the past day to bring its total to 19,899. It was the lowest day-to-day toll since March 19.
As hard-hit countries like Italy and Spain recorded reduced daily virus infections and deaths, economic pressures are mounting to loosen the tight restrictions on daily life.
Southern Europe and the United States – whose death toll of more than 20,600 is now the world’s highest – have been the recent focal points of the pandemic. But coronavirus hot spots have been shifting, with new concerns rising in Japan, Turkey and Britain, where the death toll passed 10,000.
Uncertainties loomed about the months ahead, with a top European Union official suggesting people hold off on making any summer holiday plans.
Some European countries started tentative moves to ease their shutdowns.
Spain, which on Sunday reported its lowest daily growth in infections in three weeks, will allow workers in some non-essential industries to return to factories and construction sites on Monday.
Churches in Spain rang their bells at noon to echo Pope Francis’ message of comfort to the victims of the pandemic and to offer hope.
More than 1.79 million infections have been reported and 110,000 people have died worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University.
The US has the highest numbers, with more than 530,000 confirmed cases.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that 758 people died in the state on Saturday, the sixth day in a row the toll topped 700. That raised the total number of virus-related deaths in New York to 9385.
Originally published as Lockdown rules curb Easter celebrations