PESHAWAR: A water cannon is used to disinfect St John’s Cathedral Church as a preventive measure against COVID-19 on the eve of Easter yesterday. – AFP

ROME: Millions of Christians around the world were yesterday 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. Kuwait yesterday reported 1,235 new COVID-19 cases and 12 deaths, taking total cases to 235,989 and deaths to 1,339.

Italy began a strict Easter lockdown yesterday, with the entire country considered a high-risk “red zone” during a time when families usually hold reunions. 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 yesterday in France, where authorities are scrambling to deal with a dramatic rise in cases that has overwhelmed hospitals in Paris. 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. People in Metro Manila – the national capital region – and four neighboring provinces will have to stay home for another week unless they are essential workers, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said. The announcement came as the number of new infections for a single day hit a record high of 12,576, taking the country’s caseload to more than 784,000, including over 13,400 deaths.

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. 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.

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.

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 epicenter of an unfolding crisis in Latin America, where infections have soared past 25 million, likely fueled by a more contagious variant first detected in Brazil. The devastation in Brazil has frightened neighbors 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”. – AFP