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Holiday amid pandemic: Americans divided on how to respond

PTI | Newyork | Updated: 24-05-2020 08:55 IST | Created: 24-05-2020 08:55 IST
Holiday amid pandemic: Americans divided on how to respond

President Donald Trump played golf at one of his courses Saturday during the Memorial Day weekend as he urged US states to reopen after coronavirus-related lockdowns. Yet many Americans remained cautious as the number of confirmed cases nationwide passed 1.6 million. In California, where many businesses and recreational activities are reopening, officials in Los Angeles County said they would maintain tight restrictions until July 4. Some religious leaders took issue with Trump's declaration that houses of worship are "essential" and should resume in-person services this weekend.

Statewide, New York reported its lowest number of daily coronavirus deaths — 84 — in many weeks in what Governor Andrew Cuomo described as a critical benchmark. The daily death tally peaked at 799 on April 8. Rain dampened the start of the holiday weekend in the northeastern US, where newly reopened beaches were expected to attract throngs of people and test the effectiveness of social distancing rules. At Orchard Beach in the Bronx, which was crowded a weekend earlier, parking lots were mostly empty except for large puddles.

To the south, Trump played golf at one of his private clubs for the first time during the pandemic — the Trump National Golf Club in Virginia. He has been pushing for state and local leaders to fully reopen after months of closures and tight restrictions. Parts of New Orleans stirred to back life, with some restaurants and businesses opening for the first time in over two months. Some remained closed, especially in the French Quarter, which relies largely on tourist dollars.

At least a few out-of-towners trickled in. Greer Falls of Augusta, Georgia, wore a mask as he entered the Royal House restaurant for lunch. After weeks at home, he said he was ready for a change of scenery and didn't want to miss a birthday celebration with friends he's known for decades. Some amusement parks, such as Mt Olympus in the Wisconsin Dells and Lagoon amusement park in Farmington, Utah, opened for the first time in months. The Facebook sites for both parks were flooded with comments from visitors excited to ride go-karts or roller coasters, though some complained about Lagoon's policy of requiring masks.

Overseas, there was mixed news. New coronavirus cases reported in China were zero Saturday for the first time since the outbreak began but surged in India and overwhelmed hospitals across Latin America. Many governments are easing restrictions as they face a political backlash and historic economic recessions. In just a few months, the pandemic has killed at least 340,000 people worldwide and infected about 5.3 million, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University.

As the United States closed in on 100,000 confirmed COVID-19 deaths, the New York Times devoted Sunday's entire, photo-less front page to a list of nearly 1,000 names of pandemic victims with a few words in memorial for each, culled from obituaries published around the country. “Continued on Page 12,” it read at bottom right. Turkey, which has recorded over 155,000 infections, imposed its toughest lockdown measures yet for the Eid al-Fitr holiday marking the end of Ramzan. Yemen's Houthi rebels urged believers to use masks and stay inside, as authorities try to contain infections at a time usually marked by multigenerational feasting and collective prayer.

In Germany, which has drawn praise for its handling of the virus, seven people appear to have been infected at a restaurant in the northwest of the country. It would be the first such known case since restaurants started reopening two weeks ago. And in Frankfurt, more than 40 people tested positive after a church service of the Evangelical Christian Baptist congregation May 10. A church leader said the congregation has cancelled gatherings and is now holding services online.

Authorities in nearby Hanau called off Muslim prayers planned for a stadium Sunday as a precaution. Religious events helped spread the virus early in the pandemic; resuming such gatherings is an especially thorny issue.

Mindful of evangelical Christians who are key to his base ahead of November's election, Trump on Friday called houses of worship “essential” and urged governors to let them reopen this weekend. However, leaders of many denominations said they plan to move gradually and cautiously. In Minnesota, Governor Tim Walz said he is scrapping a 10-person limit on gatherings and letting houses of worship open at 25% occupancy if safety guidelines are met.

Archbishop Bernard Hebda of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St Paul and Minneapolis welcomed the change but said priests should not reopen their churches if they can't comply with safety measures. France allowed in-person services to resume Saturday after a legal challenge to a ban on gatherings in places of worship.

One of the world's major pilgrimage sites is reopening Sunday: the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, built on the site where Christians believe Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected. Latin America is the latest epicentre of the virus, and experts note the limitations of government action in a region where millions have informal jobs and many police forces are unable to enforce restrictions.


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