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Virus Alters Holy Week Celebration Worldwide, But Not the Spirit

For Pope Francis at the Vatican, and for Christians worldwide from churches large and small, this will be an Easter like none other: The joyous message of Jesus Christ’s resurrection will be delivered to empty pews.Worries about the coronavirus outbreak have triggered widespread cancellations of Holy Week processions and in-person services. Many pastors will preach on TV or online, tailoring sermons to account for the pandemic. Many extended families will reunite via Face Time and Zoom rather than around a communal table laden with an Easter feast on April 12.”I’ll miss Mass and the procession,” said Aida Franco, 86, a retired teacher from Quito, Ecuador. “But God knows better.”Pope Francis, the first pontiff from Latin America, will be celebrating Mass for Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday and Easter in a near-empty St. Peter’s Basilica, instead of in the huge square outside filled with Catholic faithful.In the pope’s native Argentina, the archbishopric of La Plata encouraged the faithful to use any type of plant at home for a “virtual” blessing that will be livestreamed during Palm Sunday services this weekend.The pandemic has prompted cancellation of a renowned annual tradition of sawdust and handmade flower carpets coating the streets of Antigua, a colonial Guatemalan city, during its Holy Week procession. Instead, some residents will make smaller carpets to display outside their homes.”We know this is happening because of some message from God,” said Cesar Alvarez, who has been making the multicolored carpets with his family for 28 years. “But we’re taking it with a lot of sadness.”A leaflet listing Holy Week activities sits among empty pews during a live-streamed mass at the St. Augustine Church & Catholic Student Center, March 29, 2020, in Coral Gables, Fla.In some communities, there are innovative efforts to boost Eastertime morale.At Asbury United Methodist Church in Prairie Village, Kansas, family ministries director Heather Jackson is organizing an Easter egg hunt that embraces social distancing. Parents and children are creating colorful images of Easter eggs to display in windows or on garage doors, and the “hunt” will entail families driving around in their cars, or strolling on foot, trying to spot as many eggs as possible.”It’s about keeping people safe while maintaining that sense of joy,” Jackson said. “It will be a difficult time, because it’s a time for families to come together and right now we just can’t do that.”If not for the virus, 32-year-old Chris Burton — a writer, teacher and devout Baptist in Brooklyn, New York — would be planning a trip to Maryland for Easter dinner with his family.Instead, he plans to watch the online service of his church, Trinity Baptist, and then catch up with relatives by phone.Burton, who has experienced five bouts of pneumonia since 2011, has blogged about the need to shelter in place. Yet he still hopes this Easter will rekindle the uplifting emotions he’s cherished since wearing his Easter suit in childhood.”All that’s happening doesn’t mean we need to be somber,” he said.In Venezuela, Catholic officials said that after the Holy Week liturgies, some priests would try to take the Blessed Sacrament — the wine and bread of Holy Communion — on a vehicle and, using loudspeakers, invite congregants to join in spirit from their windows and balconies.A similar used of priest-carrying vehicles was proposed in the Philippines, Asia’s bastion of Catholicism.In Brazil, the world’s biggest Catholic country, Rio de Janeiro’s huge Christ the Redeemer statue has been closed indefinitely. Large Holy Week gatherings are banned in several states after a federal court overruled a decree by President Jair Bolsonaro exempting religious services from quarantine measures.Many faithful across Latin America say they’ll miss Holy Week’s observances, yet there is acceptance of the cancellations.The owners of a house known for their seasonal decorations have put up a display combining Easter and coronavirus-related social distancing measures in their yard, seen April 1, 2020, in Washington, D.C.”It’s sad because we can’t be with our Lord in his Calvary, but it’s fine,” said Felipe Navarrete of Santiago, Chile. “The health of the population comes first, and we have to be responsible with older people who join these rituals the most.”Many pastors are pondering their upcoming Easter sermons, including the Rev. Steven Paulikas of All Saints Episcopal Church in Brooklyn. His sermon will be transmitted online but delivered in an empty church.”It’s started me thinking about the empty tomb,” he said, referring to the biblical account of Christ’s resurrection after his crucifixion.”That emptiness was actually the first symbol of this new life,” Paulikas said.On the evening of April 9 — Holy Thursday commemorating the Last Supper of Jesus and his apostles — Paulikas is organizing a communal supper for his congregation, hoping members will join via Face Time.At St. Ambrose Catholic Church in Brunswick, Ohio, Father Bob Stec also is organizing a pre-Easter initiative, arranging for each of the parish’s 5,500 families to get a friendly call from another member.He’s expecting upwards of 20,000 people to watch the online Easter service.”We’re going to try to flood their senses visually and audibly with the sounds and images that will give them hope,” he said.Stec knows the key point of his own message.”This is one of those wake-up calls,” he said. “We’re more aware than ever how desperately we need God in our lives.”In Atlanta, an Easter message for Emory University is being prepared by Robert Franklin, a professor at Emory’s Candler School of Theology.”The first Easter with its joyful surprise emerged out of suffering, fear, suspicion, death, sorrow and grief,” Franklin writes. “Easter in the time of COVID-19 is closer existentially to that first Easter than to our customary cultural festivals of self-indulgence and triumphalism.”  

At Least 19 Killed in Mexico Gang Clash

A gang battle in Mexico has left at least 19 people dead in the northern state of Chihuahua, officials said Saturday.At least five armed clashes have occurred in the Madera community so far this year, local authorities have said.”The state attorney general, in conjunction with the public safety office and Mexican army, launched an operation to investigate and locate armed groups that staged a confrontation that left 19 people dead yesterday in the town of Madera,” authorities said.According to early reports, the bloodshed occurred Friday evening when alleged hitmen of the Gente Nueva group, part of the Sinaloa Cartel, were driving on a dirt road in Madera.There they were ambushed by men from the opposing group La Linea, part of the Juarez Cartel.Responding authorities seized 18 long firearms, one short, two vehicles and two grenades at the site of the clash.The Mexican government has blamed the La Linea cartel for the massacre of nine Mexican American Mormons last November when they were traveling on a rural road between the states of Sonora and Chihuahua, which borders the United States.

Can Eating Limes and Drinking Clorox Water Prevent You from Catching COVID-19?  

As the coronavirus continues to spread in Haiti, some people are embracing traditional remedies as a way to prevent or cure the deadly virus. VOA talked to Haitians at an open-air market about what they believe can prevent them from being infected or perhaps even heal them.“They say there’s no cure for it, but we can eat limes and drink water with Clorox to stay alive,” a female street merchant told VOA.“I hear people say you should eat limes and eat certain leaves to stay healthy,” a male street merchant said.Haiti currently has 18 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with more than 400 people quarantined while they await test results, the public health ministry announced Friday.VOA Creole asked Pierre Hugues Saint-Jean, president of the national Association of Pharmacists, if there’s any validity to the traditional remedies being touted on the streets.“There actually has been a debate about the virtues of certain plants. Some people say ginger, others say limes, some people are talking about aloe,” Saint-Jean said. “Just because it’s a plant doesn’t mean it has no scientific validity. But you have to study the plant, isolate the active substances contained in the plant and then conduct (scientific) studies.”A flatbed truck travels on the streets of Port-au-Prince on April 3, 2020. The sign says “Coronavirus is lethal. Wash your hands, protect yourself.”Saint-Jean said this kind of in-depth study can determine what preventive attributes the plant may hold that perhaps later could be used to treat illnesses.Traditional cures are part of the Haitian culture and are widely used. Native tropical plants such as moringa, palma christi, verbena and aloe are routinely used to treat health ailments such as colds and flu. In fact, the health ministry has a special branch devoted to traditional medicine.“If we talk about lime as a cure, I can tell you that limes have a lot of positive attributes. Limes have an abundance of vitamin C, which helps to reinforce the immune system,” explained Cajuste Romel, vice president of the national pharmacists association.Some people are taking drugs such as chloroquine, sold on the streets of Port-au-Prince, as a preventative measure. Chloroquine (phosphate) is an effective antimalarial drug, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.“Any pill I find being sold on the street (as a cure) I will buy it because I’ve got problems,” a customer at an open-air market told VOA.Saint-Jean said he understands why people believe the drug can cure them.“Laboratory tests on chloroquine had some positive results on malaria, and recent tests have shown that it does have a level of success against the coronavirus, that’s why researchers are studying,” he said.This street merchant, shown in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on April 3, 2020, believes eating limes and drinking water infused with Clorox will keep her healthy.As of now, there is no cure for the highly contagious COVID-19, although researchers have begun searching for one. Health experts say a vaccine will not be available in 2020.Romel told VOA that taking chloroquine preventatively is not a good idea.“Chloroquine cannot prevent you from being infected with the coronavirus,” he said.  As for adding Clorox (bleach) to water, the pharmacist advised caution.“Clorox is one of the best disinfectants that exist on Earth. It’s not only efficient but also accessible,” he told VOA. “But it worries me (to hear people are drinking it in water) because it’s also toxic. That’s why you have to be very careful about how much you are adding to the water you’re drinking.”Romel said he hopes the government will include the proper proportion of Clorox to water in its coronavirus public advisories.“Haitians think if they can smell the Clorox, then it’s more effective,” Romel noted. “The truth is the stronger the smell, the more toxic it is.”  

All Americans Should Wear Nonmedical Masks, US Government Recommends

All Americans should wear nonmedical masks to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, the U.S. government is recommending.The new guidelines, from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention amid the coronavirus pandemic, were announced Friday by President Donald Trump.Trump stressed the recommendation was voluntary and said he would not be following it.“You can do it. You don’t have to do it. I’m choosing not to do it,” he told reporters.“Somehow, sitting in the Oval Office behind that beautiful Resolute Desk, wearing a face mask as I greet presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings, queens — I just don’t see it,” Trump elaborated.Some lack symptomsThe U.S. surgeon general, Dr. Jerome Adams, said donning the masks was, however, a good idea to try to prevent the virus from spreading, since many infected with it do not show any symptoms.“We now know from recent studies that a significant portion of individuals with coronavirus lack symptoms,” he said. “This means that the virus can spread between people interacting in close proximity — for example, coughing, speaking or sneezing.”The president and other officials stressed that people should not use the medical-grade masks, which are in short supply and needed by first responders and health professionals.“The CDC is recommending that Americans wear a basic cloth or fabric mask that can be either purchased online or simply made at home,” Trump said.He also announced that he was invoking the Defense Production Act to halt the export of “scarce health and medical supplies by unscrupulous actors and profiteers.”“We need these items immediately for domestic use,” Trump said. “We have to have them.”FILE – Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during a news conference on the coronavirus at Rideau Cottage, in Ottawa, Ontario, March 29, 2020.Canada, meanwhile, warned the Trump administration about halting the supply of masks to its neighbor and ally.“The level of integration between our economies goes both ways across the border,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday. “It would be a mistake to create blockages or reduce the amount of back-and-forth trade of essential goods and services, including medical goods, across our border. That is the point we’re making to the American administration right now.”Canada will “pull out all the stops” to prevent the United States from blocking the exports of some medical equipment, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said.Warning from 3MA major manufacturer of the N95 respirators was also upset about the Trump administration’s action.There are “significant humanitarian implications of ceasing respirator supplies to health care workers in Canada and Latin America, where we are a critical supplier of respirators,” 3M, a Minnesota-based multinational conglomerate, said in a statement Friday. “In addition, ceasing all export of respirators produced in the United States would likely cause other countries to retaliate and do the same, as some have already done. If that were to occur, the net number of respirators being made available to the United States would actually decrease.””I don’t blame ‘em — they can push back if they want,” Trump said when asked by VOA about the company’s comment. “We’re not happy with 3M.”FILE – N95 respiration masks are seen at a 3M laboratory that has been contracted by the U.S. government to produce extra marks in response to the coronavirus outbreak, in Maplewood, Minnesota, March 4, 2020.The pandemic has yet to peak in the United States, amid an estimation by the White House that 100,000 to 240,000 people in the country could die of the new coronavirus  in the next couple of months, even if social distancing was strictly followed.The response coordinator for the White House coronavirus task force, Dr. Deborah Birx, said the numbers go could higher if there was another big outbreak in a major metropolitan area similar to the one in New York City.She noted officials were continuing to watch the situation in Detroit and Chicago and expressed new concern about the states of Colorado and Pennsylvania, as well as Washington, D.C.“The models show hundreds of thousands of people are going to die” in the United States, the president said. “I want much less than that. I want none. But it’s too late for that.”Biggest jumpNew York state registered its biggest single-day increase in COVID-19 deaths and hospitalizations, Governor Andrew Cuomo said.He said 562 people had died of the virus in the last 24 hours, adding that there were more than 100,000 confirmed infections in the state.This is the “highest single increase in the number of deaths since we started,” he said Friday.Looking ahead, in the near term, Cuomo warned that more people were going to die in hospitals because of a lack of ventilators.New York is the epicenter of the outbreak in the United States, the country with the most COVID-19 cases.  As of Friday, according to FILE – Patients wearing face masks and personal protective equipment wait on line for COVID-19 testing outside Elmhurst Hospital Center, March 27, 2020, in New York City.The economic health of the nation also is in jeopardy. Economists are forecasting the U.S. unemployment rate soon will surpass levels seen during the global financial crisis 12 years ago.A total of 701,000 jobs were lost last month, according to the U.S. Labor Department, but its data did not include those Americans who lost employment in the past two weeks and filed claims.”The devastating news in the March jobs report demands our next step be to go bigger and further assisting small business, to go longer in unemployment benefits and to provide additional direct payments,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement after the Friday release of the Labor Department number.“We must also provide the desperately needed resources for our hospitals, health systems, health workers and state and local governments on the front lines of this crisis,” she said.Hardships to increaseWhite House economic officials said they would not sugarcoat the damage that the pandemic was doing to the U.S. economy.“The whole pandemic and its consequences have come on exponentially faster” than anyone expected, Larry Kudlow, director of the U.S. National Economic Council, told reporters Friday at the White House. “Those numbers and those hardships are going to get worse before they get better.”Loans backed by the U.S. government began going out on Friday to small businesses so they could keep workers on their payrolls amid a widespread shutdown of the economy because of stay-at-home orders in a majority of states.The White House also announced Friday that anyone who is expected to be in close proximity to either the president or Vice President Mike Pence “will be administered a COVID-19 test to evaluate for pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic carriers’ status to limit inadvertent transmission.”The tests were to be initiated on Friday. Journalists in the room for the coronavirus task force briefing were not tested, indicating that close proximity apparently means those who may come within a distance of a meter or two of Trump or Pence.

Canada Warns US Against Halting Supply of Masks Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

Canada is warning the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump about halting the supply of masks needed by first responders in the international battle against the coronavirus.  
 
“The level of integration between our economies goes both ways across the border,” said Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday. “It would be a mistake to create blockages or reduce the amount of back-and-forth trade of essential goods and services, including medical goods across our border. That is the point we’re making to the American administration right now.”  
 
Canada will “pull out all the stops” to prevent the United States from blocking the exports of some medical equipment, said Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland.  
 
The Trump administration Thursday invoked the Defense Production Act to require 3M, a Minnesota-based multinational conglomerate, to prioritize orders from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for N95 respirators.  
 
There are “significant humanitarian implications of ceasing respirator supplies to healthcare workers in Canada and Latin America, where we are a critical supplier of respirators,” the company said in a statement Friday. “In addition, ceasing all export of respirators produced in the United States would likely cause other countries to retaliate and do the same, as some have already done. If that were to occur, the net number of respirators being made available to the United States would actually decrease.”FILE – N95 respiration masks are seen at a 3M laboratory that has been contracted by the U.S. government to produce extra marks in response to the coronavirus outbreak, in Maplewood, Minnesota, March 4, 2020.Asked by VOA about 3M’s response to the order, the director of the U.S. National Economic Council, Larry Kudlow, indicated he had not yet read the letter but said “let me take a look at it.”  
 
Health care workers across the country continue to complain about a shortage of the protective equipment. The demand may surge even more in the coming days amid anticipation the Centers for Disease Control will recommend that Americans, especially in coronavirus hot spots, cover their mouths to prevent widening infections.  
 
Trump suggested Thursday people could put scarves on their faces instead of using conventional masks.  
 
The pandemic has yet to peak in the United States, amid an estimation by the White House that in the next couple of months as many as 240,000 people in the country could die of the new coronavirus.  
 
The state of New York has registered its biggest single-day increase in COVID-19 deaths and hospitalizations, according to its governor, Andrew Cuomo.  
 
In the last 24 hours, 562 people had died of the virus in New York, said Cuomo, announcing there are more than 100,000 confirmed infections in the state.FILE – Patients wearing face masks and personal protective equipment wait on line for COVID-19 testing outside Elmhurst Hospital Center, March 27, 2020, in New York City.This is the “highest single increase in the number of deaths since we started,” he remarked Friday.   
 
Looking ahead, in the near term, the governor warned that more people are going to die in hospitals due to a lack of ventilators.  
 
New York is the epicenter of the outbreak in the United States, the country with the most COVID-19 cases.  
 
As of Friday, according to Johns Hopkins University, there are more than 245,000 COVID-19 cases in the country, with nearly 6,600 deaths. 
 
The virus is projected to become the top killer in the country on peak days this month, according to a daily tracker set up by an organization of assisted living facilities.  
 
The economic health of the nation also is in jeopardy. Economists are forecasting the U.S. unemployment rate soon will surpass levels seen during the global financial crisis 12 years ago.   

Panama Employs Gender-Based Plan to Fight COVID-19

Panama is now using a gender-based plan to support restrictions already in place to contain a COVID-19 outbreak.Panama Security Minister Juan Pino said that until April 15, men and women can only leave their homes for a two-hour period on certain days.The plan permits women to leave home to buy goods on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.Men in Panama are allowed out on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.  No one is permitted to leave home on Sunday unless it’s an emergency.It’s unclear how the separation of men of women in public will enhance Panama’s ability to curtail the growing infection rate.Panama has also tightened its nightly curfew, instead of people not being allowed out between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m., the curfew now starts at 5 p.m.Panama’s health ministry has reported 1,475 coronavirus cases, with 37 deaths. 

Mexico Moves to Prepare Hospitals for Coronavirus Patients

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is scheduled to begin two days of hospital visits Friday as the government scrambles to make ready dozens of facilities with the capability of treating coronavirus patients.The move comes as crews begin sanitizing a public hospital in the northern town of Monclova, in Coahuila state, where at least 26 medical workers tested positive for the virus and a doctor died.Authorities say the hospital staff is being retrained on how to handle coronavirus cases following the doctor’s death.Prior to the doctor’s death, medical workers at the hospital and several other medical facilities across Mexico staged protests over training and equipment needed to safely treat coronavirus patients.The latest outbreak has raised public concern over the strength of the government’s plan to fight the virus, which has infected more than 1,300 people in Mexico and claimed the lives of 37 people. 

First Indigenous Person Infected with Coronavirus in Brazil

Officials in Brazil say the first indigenous person in the South American nation to test positive for the coronavirus is in isolation with her family.Authorities in Brazil say the 20-year-old woman, who is from the Kokama ethnic group in the Amazon rainforest, worked with a doctor who tested positive for the virus last week after returning from vacation.A spokesman for Brazil’s Indigenous Health unit said Wednesday that she showed no symptoms of the virus, which has infected 6,836 people across Brazil, the nation with the highest infection rate in Latin America. So far the disease claimed the lives of 241 people.The French News Press (AFP) says 12 indigenous patients and 14 other people who worked with the infected doctor are awaiting coronavirus test results.Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta said the health of Brazil’s indigenous people is a big concern because their communal lifestyle may help spread the virus.Mandetta said indigenous leaders are already quarantined for two weeks when they return from overseas trips to avoid bringing outside diseases into their communities.

Peru Steps Up Enforcement of Stay-At-Home Order

Thousands of Peru reservists are joining security forces and police in enforcing the mandatory quarantine aimed at stopping the spread of the new coronavirus.President Martin Vizcarra is calling up more than 10,000 reservists to patrol neighborhoods as thousands of people continue to violate a national stay-at-home order and guidelines for social distancing.Reservists who refuse to report for duty face a fine of $1,200.Although President Vizcarra declared a state of emergency and ordered people to stay home through April 12, a military spokesman said Wednesday that thousands of people have been detained for violating the dusk-to-dawn stay-off-the-streets order.So far, Peru has 1,065 cases of coronavirus, and 30 people have died.

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