CASTELBUONO, Sicily (CN) – The gloom over Italy darkened Friday as the country reported nearly 1,000 new deaths, its worst single-day toll in an accelerating coronavirus pandemic that has brought the world to a standstill.
Grim-faced Italian officials in Rome announced 969 new deaths at a daily briefing while, not far away and at the same time, Pope Francis held a stirring and historic “Urbi et Orbi” benediction at Saint Peter’s Basilica and an invocation pleading for divine intervention to end the pandemic.
Under a slight rain and in the evening shadows of the Vatican, Francis held the prayer in an empty square at the basilica. The public was not allowed to attend due to the nationwide lockdown to contain the virus. The silence was so profound the sound of birds cawing and rain dripping could be heard during his prayer, shown on live television in Italy and around the world.
In his message, he called on humanity to come together to overcome the virus and heal a “sick earth.” He also blessed the medical workers, police officers, supermarket workers and others who are helping during this pandemic.
“We are all in this boat together,” the pope said, alluding to a verse in the Gospels where Jesus and his disciples are together in a boat during a storm on the Sea of Galilee. “We all must row together.”
The pope called for more caring and humility, saying “we haven’t heard the cries of the poor and from our profoundly sick earth.”
“We can’t go on anymore each on their own,” he said.
“No one is saved alone,” Francis added. “Alone we sink.”
It was a comforting moment for Italians, a population that has been locked inside homes to avoid infection and suffering through what many describe as the nation’s worst tragedy since the end of World War II.
In all, 9,134 people in Italy have died from the novel coronavirus, which attacks a person’s respiratory system. Italy now far exceeds China in deaths and also in the number of people infected. Italian officials are hopeful that the country is close to reaching the peak of the disease, but thousands of new infections are reported each day. There have been more than 86,000 confirmed cases in Italy.
Silvio Brusaferro, the head of Italy’s National Health Institute, said on Friday that there are “signs of a slowdown” in the number of people becoming infected. Italy has been in a lockdown since March 10.
But the staggering level of suffering from this pandemic is hardly limited to Italy.
Spain, France and the United Kingdom also reported high death tolls on Friday.
In Spain, the count rose by 769 deaths to 4,858, the second-worst in the world. Madrid is the hardest-hit area.
In France, the death tally jumped by 356 to 1,696 – its largest increase yet in a single day. French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe warned the country is “only at the beginning” of its epidemic and that deaths in the region of Paris and northern parts of the country are expected to rise. France is dealing with a severe outbreak in the eastern region of Alsace.
The death toll in the United Kingdom rose by 181 to 759. The U.K. is bracing for a wave of new deaths in the coming days. On Friday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his health secretary announced they had tested positive.
Germany largely has been spared, but the number of deaths are going up there too. The country has done a lot of testing and found more than 43,000 infected people and reported a total of 321 deaths.
More than a half million cases worldwide have been found and about 26,820 people have died since the virus emerged in humans in China in December, possibly earlier.
“These are tragic numbers, but let’s also remember that around the world more than 100,000 people have recovered,” Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the World Health Organization, said during a news conference Friday.
He urged countries to cooperate in the fight against the virus while scientists work on a vaccine. He said a vaccine may be available between 12 and 18 months.
“We are one humanity with one common enemy. No country can fight alone,” he said.
Tedros said a worldwide shortage in protective medical gear is dire and he called for production to ramp up.
He also urged world leaders to spend more on public health. “We must make a promise to future generations: never again,” he said.
Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.