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Coronavirus challenge looms as Muslims, Christians gathering for worship after closing

JAKARTA (AFP) – Muslims and Christians around the world would gather Sunday (May 24) to celebrate their faith when Eid al-Fitr begins and churches reopen after closings, opening new challenges for authorities trying to curb the corona virus.

The faithful were preparing for worship from Asia to Europe, where the end of virus restrictions accelerated when Spain announced a resumption of foreign tourism and the highest football league.

But the disease continued to spread across much of South America, with a death toll of 22,000 in Brazil and an infection of 347,000, which is the second highest number of casualties in the world.

On both sides of the Atlantic, efforts to lift lockdowns continued, with U.S. President Donald Trump sending a signal of his intentions with a golf trip – his first such outing since March 8.

Now that the number of contaminants in the West has stabilized, many governments are trying to shift to lighter social distance measures that they hope will revive the dying business and tourism sectors.

In Spain, which has maintained one of the world’s strictest closings since mid-March, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez tried to reassure potential visitors by saying that from 1 July “foreign tourists’ access to Spain will resume in safe conditions”. The country’s La Liga football could return on June 8, he added.

Italy will also reopen its borders to foreign tourists from June 3.

French churches were preparing to have their first Sunday mass in more than two months after the government accepted the decision to reopen – provided proper precautions were taken.

Nearly two weeks after the closure was lifted, France finally reopened mosques, synagogues, and churches, but priests, ministers, rabbis, and imams will still have to ensure proper security measures are in place.

Worshipers will need to wear masks, disinfectant gel should be provided, and chairs organized to ensure people are kept at a safe distance from each other.

“My cell phone is creaking with messages!” Father Pierre Amar, a priest in Versailles, told Agence France-Presse.

French mosques nevertheless called on Muslims to stay at home during the Eid al-Fitr holiday which marks the end of the Islamic month of Ramadan.

They said they would gradually resume services from June 3.

In Saudi Arabia, Eid prayers are held in the two holy mosques in the cities of Mecca and Medina “without worshipers,” authorities said on Saturday (May 23) when the kingdom began a five-day curfew after the infections had quadrupled since the beginning of Ramadan.

While for Christians in Jerusalem, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher reopens on Sunday, but with strict restrictions.

The virus is still a cause for concern in the region, with densely packed Gaza dying for the first time on Saturday.

Some Muslims in Indonesia took radical steps to reunite with their loved ones for Eid, while people in the world’s most populous Muslim majority struggle to get around the lockdown rules.

The government has banned most travel across the country, and many residents are turning to smugglers and false certificates. A man told AFP that he had received a false certificate for his daughter to travel home from university in the capital, Jakarta. “We want to celebrate Eid al-Fitr together as in recent years,” he said.

Worldwide, approximately 5.29 million people are now infected with the virus that killed 341,000, with Latin America as the new global epicenter of the pandemic.

The far-right Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has mitigated the severity of the outbreak, but is under increasing pressure amid a rising death toll and the resignation of two of his health ministers within weeks.

The investigation intensified after the release of a video of a cabinet meeting on April 22 – as the country quickly became a virus focus – in which Bolsonaro and his delegates barely mentioned the pandemic.

One of the few mentions of Covid-19 came when the Secretary of the Environment proposed that the government take advantage of the distraction caused by the virus to relax environmental protection rules.

Neighboring Peru is also struggling. The 32 million country has registered more than 3,100 deaths.

In Ecuador, Tourism Minister Rosi Prado told AFP that the pandemic could cost the country’s major tourism industry $ 400 million ($ 570 million) per month.

As the economic toll of lockdowns around the world rises, efforts continue to reinvigorate the destroyed economies.

In the United States, where the death toll is close to 100,000, Trump has aggressively pushed for the economy to be reopened, defying the advice of health experts.

The U.S. economy has lost nearly 40 million jobs this year, and many companies, the most recent car rental giant Hertz, have hit the wall. But most states have started cutting down on their closures and many public beaches reopened on Saturday.

“We are tired of being trapped in the house. There is not much else to do. So I came to the beach, ”said mom at home, Kayla Lambert, while her two children were playing in the surf in Galveston, Texas.

Opposition to troubled audiences is gaining momentum, with protests in Spain and Germany over the weekend.

Thousands gathered in Madrid on Saturday to end the rules and dismissal of Mr Sanchez, in protest of the extreme right-wing party Vox.

Others made a rare positive comment about the effects of the virus and enjoyed open spaces once filled with tourists. Laia Torra, in Barcelona’s UNESCO-protected Parc Guell, said the park had become too busy in recent years.

“It’s great, it’s like going back twenty years,” she said as her children played.

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