The Latest: Pope says pandemic poses ‘epochal challenge’

The Latest on the coronavirus pandemic. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death.


— Pope calls for solidarity to confront “epochal challenge”

— British PM Boris Johnson says he owes life to health staff

— Spain has lowest growth in coronavirus cases in 3 weeks


VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis is calling for solidarity the world over to confront the “epochal challenge” posed by the coronavirus pandemic.

He has urged political leaders in particular to give hope and opportunity to laid-off workers.

Francis made his traditional Easter address on Sunday and called for sanctions relief, debt forgiveness and cease-fires to calm conflicts and financial crises around the globe.

He has offered special prayers for the sick, the dead, the elderly, refugees and the poor. He also has offered thanks and encouragement to doctors and nurses who have worked “to the point of exhaustion and not infrequently at the expense of their own health.”

Francis has urged the European Union to step up to the “epochal challenge” posed by COVID-19 and resist the tendency of selfishness and division. He recalled that Europe rose again after World War II “thanks to a concrete spirit of solidarity that enabled it to overcome the rivalries of the past.”

He says “this is not a time for self-centerdness, because the challenge we are facing is shared by all, without distinguishing between persons.”


MADRID — Spain has reported its lowest daily growth in confirmed coronavirus infections in three weeks as it prepares to loosen its strict lockdown measures and let some workers return to the job.

Spanish health authorities have reported 4,167 confirmed new cases over the past 24 hours. The country’s total is at 166,019, second only to the United States.

Deaths in Spain have reached a total of 16,972, with 619 new fatalities confirmed since Saturday. More than 60,000 patients have recovered from COVID-19 in Spain.

The country on Monday will allow workers in industry and construction to return to work after a two-week shutdown of economic activities other than health care and the food industry.

Those who can work from home are strongly encouraged by authorities to continue doing so. Retail shops will remain closed other than supermarkets, fruit stands, bakeries, butchers, newsstands and pharmacies.


DHAKA, Bangladesh — Bangladesh has recorded four deaths and 139 cases of the new coronavirus in the last 24 hours.

Officials say the death toll is at 34, with 621 confirmed cases.

Almost half of the cases have been reported in the capital of Dhaka.

The country of 160 million people is expected to remain in a nationwide lockdown until April 25.


LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says he owes his life to staff at the National Health Service who treated him for COVID-19.

Johnson has made his first public statement since he was moved out of intensive care at St. Thomas’ Hospital in London, saying he “can’t thank them enough. I owe them my life.”

The 55-year-old Johnson was diagnosed with COVID-19 more than two weeks ago, becoming the first world leader confirmed to have the illness.

His coronavirus symptoms at first were said to have been mild, including a cough and a fever.

He was admitted to St. Thomas’ Hospital last Sunday after his condition worsened and was transferred to the intensive care unit the following day, where he received oxygen but was not put onto a ventilator.

He spent three nights there before moving back to a regular ward on Thursday.


SEOUL, South Korea — Some South Korean churches have held their Easter services online amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Seoul’s Yoido Full Gospel Church, one of the biggest churches in South Korea, delivered an online live streaming of its Easter service on Sunday.

A small number of masked followers attended the service broadcast via the church’s website. They were seated notably apart from each other to abide by social distancing rules. Choir members also wore masks when they sang hymns.

Many South Korean churches have switched to online services to support government-led efforts to stem the spread of the new coronavirus. Local media reported some churches resumed offline services to mark Easter Sunday, raising worries about new infections.

South Korea has reported 32 additional cases of the coronavirus over the past 24 hours, a continued downward trend in new infections in the country.


SYDNEY — Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy says the country is “in a good place” in its fight against the coronavirus as the death toll rose by three to 59.

Murphy says “there is no place in the world I would rather be than Australia at the moment.”

Australia now has 6,289 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus.

Murphy says people in the community are still transmitting the virus so it is necessary to “keep our pressure on and make sure that we don’t end up like countries in the world that you have all seen on the news.”

He says the country is “in a good place … but we have to maintain that good place.”

Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg says it would be “very dangerous and unrealistic” to remove social distancing restrictions too soon.

He says those restrictions will stay in place across Australia “for as long as it takes” based on medical advice.


BERLIN — The head of the European Union’s executive branch is suggesting that people hold off on booking summer vacations for now, pointing to uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.

Most planes are currently grounded and many countries have put wide-ranging travel restrictions and warnings in place. Some nations are considering first steps out of weeks-long shutdowns of public life but much of Europe is near a standstill.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tells Germany’s Bild am Sonntag newspaper she “would advise waiting with such plans.”

She added in an interview published Sunday that “no one can make reliable forecasts for July and August at the moment.”


KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Southeast Asian travel associations are urging airlines to refund passengers for flight cancellations due to the coronavirus outbreak, rather than issuing travel vouchers.

The International Air Travel Association estimates industry liability in this area at $35 billion, but told the travel agent community in a letter earlier this month that airlines’ most urgent need amid the crisis was to keep their remaining liquidity to pay salaries and other fixed costs. As such, IATA said airlines should be allowed to issue vouchers in lieu of cash refunds to ease their burden.

But the Federation of ASEAN Travel Associations, which represents over 7,700 travel agents in 10 Southeast Asian nations, says it is “a matter of principle” to return payments collected from customers. While it is sympathetic with airlines, it says it is “poor financial management” to take deposits for future services but unable to provide refund.

The federation urged IATA in a statement Sunday to compel airlines to process cash refunds, failing which it warned could stifle forward bookings, travel patterns and consumer confidence as well as spur unnecessary lawsuits. It also urged governments worldwide to provide financial resources and relief to the aviation and travel industry.

With a third of global fleet parked as countries sealed their borders due to the virus outbreak, IATA has estimated that revenue for passenger ticket sales will fall 44% from last year.


TOKYO — Japanese health care facilities are getting stretched thin amid a surge in coronavirus patients.

The Japanese Association for Acute Medicine and the Japanese Society for Emergency Medicine, representing such professionals, issued a joint statement recently warning about a “collapse of emergency medicine,” which may lead to the collapse of medicine overall.

The statement said many hospitals were turning away people rushed by ambulance, including those suffering strokes, heart attacks and external injuries. Some people who were turned away later turned out to have the coronavirus.

Masks and surgical gowns were running short, the statement said.

Japan has nearly 7,000 coronavirus cases and about 100 deaths, but the numbers are growing. The government has declared a state of emergency, asking people to stay home.


WELLINGTON, New Zealand — Catholic bishops in New Zealand wrote a special pastoral letter to worshippers stuck at home, comparing the country’s lockdown to the Biblical story of Easter.

“The future, for many, appears uncertain or even dire,” the letter read. “In the meantime, we are continuing to have the tomb experience of being locked down at home and we know, for many families, that this situation is becoming difficult and stressful.”

The letter also said the lockdown was giving people new insights.

“People have noticed families doing things together. The world has become quieter and we have noticed the beauty of nature,” the letter read. “This time has proved to be a reflective time enabling us to refocus or revision ourselves and how we live.”


SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea reported 32 additional cases of the coronavirus over the past 24 hours, a continued downward trend in new infections in the country.

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement Sunday the additional cases increased the country’s total to 10,512.

It says 7,368 of them have been recovered and released from quarantine and that 13,788 are under tests to determine whether they’ve contracted the virus.

The center says that South Korea’s death toll from the coronavirus increased by three to 214.

South Korea’s caseload has been slowing recently, compared with early March when it recorded hundreds of new cases every day. But there are worries about a steady rise in infections linked to those arriving from overseas and recent transmissions at bars and other leisure facilities.


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