VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis is denouncing the mafia and all those who are taking advantage of the coronavirus pandemic to make money.
Francis opened his morning Mass on Wednesday by praying that “all those who profit off the needs of others, and sell them” experience spiritual conversion.
Francis’ homily was dedicated to the biblical story of Judas betraying Jesus — a narrative Christians commemorate this week in the run-up to liturgical services marking Christ’s Last Supper, crucifixion and resurrection.
In his remarks, Francis said everyone has a “little Judas inside of us” who makes a choice between loyalty to others or self-interest. He said: “Each one of us has the capacity to betray, to sell others, to choose our own interests.”
Speaking of mobsters and money lenders, he said: “May the Lord touch their hearts and convert them.”
Italian officials have warned that organized crime groups are maneuvering to profit off the social and economic disruptions caused by Italy’s virus-induced nationwide shutdown. In the United States, numerous scams have been reported in which people sell bogus cures, vaccines and home-testing kits for the virus — all of which are frauds.
Virus Infections Rise Again in Spain
MADRID — Spain’s Health Ministry on Wednesday reported 757 new deaths of patients with coronavirus and 6,180 new confirmed infections.
Both figures were slightly higher than Tuesday’s, when the first increase in five days was explained by a backlog of test results and fatalities that had gone unreported over the weekend.
But doubts about the statistics are being heard louder as fresh data start to emerge.
Authorities have already acknowledged that scarcity of testing kits and a bottleneck in the number of tests that laboratories can conduct on a daily basis are giving an underestimated contagion tally, which rose to 146,000 on Wednesday. A nationwide survey of 30,000 households has been launched to figure out what is the approximate extent of the epidemic beyond hospitals and nursing homes.
Health Minister Salvador Illa said Tuesday that his department can account only for those who die and were tested. There have been few instances of post-mortem testing.
To rein in the data divide, Spain’s Justice Ministry issued an order Wednesday requiring more than 4,000 civil registries across the country to provide new and revised data.
African Leaders Blast Trump’s Attack on WHO
JOHANNESBURG — African leaders are bristling at President Trump’s attack on the World Health Organization chief, after Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus spoke up this week against “racist” comments by two French doctors who said a coronavirus vaccine could be tested in Africa.
Tedros condemned the remarks as leftovers of a “colonial mentality.” Tedros is from Ethiopia and is the first African to lead the World Health Organization.
“Surprised to learn of a campaign by the U.S. govt against WHO’s global leadership. The African Union fully supports WHO and Dr. Tedros,” the chair of the AU Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, tweeted.
“I agree with you, my brother. WHO, under the stewardship of Dr. Tedros, has shown itself to be a true flag-bearer of multilateralism when global solidarity has become critical,” Namibia’s President Hage Geingob responded in a tweet.
Pandemic Used as Excuse for Abortion Bans
BRUSSELS — A hundred nongovernmental organizations including human and women’s rights groups are urging European governments to implement measures safeguarding access to abortion during the Covid-19 epidemics.
In a statement Wednesday, they asked governments to recognize abortion as an essential care.
Their call came as Poland’s parliament prepares to put on the agenda a strict new abortion law. The Eastern European country already has some of the continent’s most restrictive abortion laws.
“European governments must act urgently to guarantee safe and timely access to abortion care during the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Leah Hoctor, the regional director for Europe at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “They should move swiftly to eradicate all medically unnecessary requirements that hamper access to abortion care and should authorize women to access early medical abortion from their homes.”
The groups said the pandemic has affected reproductive health services at hospitals and clinics because of staff shortages or reassignments of affected personnel to tasks related to the deadly virus.
“In many places, accessing normal clinical services has become extremely difficult,” they said. “Restrictions to reproductive health services disproportionately affect women living in poverty, women with disabilities, Roma women, undocumented migrant women, adolescents, trans and gender nonbinary people, and women at risk of or who are survivors of domestic and sexual violence.”
In the United States, several states in the South, Midwest and Great Plains have used the virus pandemic as a way to impose back-door restrictions on abortion. Some have been upheld by courts, some overturned.
China Urges US Cooperation During Pandemic
BEIJING — China says the struggle against the global coronavirus pandemic provides a “platform for China-U.S. cooperation,” despite sniping between the sides over blame and responsibility.
Citing recent comments between Chinese leader Xi Jinping and President Trump, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters at a briefing Wednesday that the sides would “benefit from cooperation and stand to lose from conflict, and cooperation is the only correct choice.”
Some in Congress are calling for China to be held accountable for initially covering up the outbreak, an accusation Beijing denies despite obvious evidence of it. Anticipating a backlash, China’s official Xinhua News Agency has suggested Beijing could retaliate against the United States by banning the export of medical products that would leave the U.S. stuck in the “ocean of viruses.”
Zhao drew attention in March when he suggested without evidence that the U.S. military transported the virus to Wuhan or that the virus was released from a U.S. lab.
“It might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Be transparent! Make public your data! US owe us an explanation!” Zhao tweeted March 12.
Asked about the tweet on Tuesday, Zhao said it had been “a response to the stigmatization some U.S. politicians made against China previously, and it also reflected the indignation of many Chinese people about these practices.”
WHO Says This Is No Time to Ease up
GENEVA — The head of the World Health Organization’s Europe office says a trend of decline in the rate of increase in new coronavirus cases does not mean it’s time to relax measures aimed to stop its spread.
Dr. Hans Kluge, the WHO regional director for Europe, also said some countries “are experiencing a rapid increase in cases or a fresh surge,” and called for continued vigilance. He noted measures taken in many countries to shut schools and businesses.
“We still have a long way to go in the marathon and the progress we have made so far in fighting the virus is extremely fragile,” he said. “To think we are coming close to an endpoint would be a dangerous thing to do. The virus leaves no room for error or complacency.”
He said countries that project easing lockdowns or physical distancing measures must do so only after “very careful consideration,” such as whether health systems are prepared.
“Many of us are looking forward to celebrating Easter with better weather, but this is not the time to lower our guard,” Kluge told a video news conference from Copenhagen. “We must soldier on.”
Slovakia Warns Against Easter Weekend Travel
BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Huge traffic disruptions have been reported across Slovakia amid the government’s new restrictions on movement to contain the epidemic of the coronavirus.
The restrictions were imposed for Wednesday till Monday to prevent people from traveling over the Easter weekend. Slovakia is a Roman-Catholic stronghold in central and eastern Europe.
People are allowed to travel only to work, do essential shopping or visit doctors. Only family members can stay together for outdoor activities that are restricted to take place only within one county.
Police teamed up with the military to enforce the measures on the borders of the counties, causing traffic jams.
Bratislava authorities say traffic on all roads leading to the capital has collapsed, advising people to cancel their travel plans.
Economy Minister Richard Sulik apologized for the delays on Wednesday, saying he would like to relax the restrictions. Prime Minister Igor Matovic was against it.
Dozens Infected on French Aircraft Carrier
PARIS — France’s defense ministry announced that French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle is heading back to port amid a possible virus outbreak onboard.
The ministry said Wednesday that around 40 troops are presenting symptoms compatible with the Covid-19 disease. They have been placed under strict medical observation.
A medical team equipped with tests will get onboard Wednesday to confirm the potential cases and try to prevent the virus from spreading, the ministry said.
The aircraft carrier, which was on a mission in the Atlantic Ocean, is returning immediately to its base in the port of Toulon, on the Mediterranean coast, where it was initially expected to dock on April 23. It carries a crew of about 1,900.
The announcement came after a coronavirus outbreak hit U.S. aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, now at port in Guam. As of Tuesday, the U.S. Navy said at least 230 crew members had tested positive. The firing last week of the Roosevelt’s captain created a combustible controversy in the country and led to the resignation Tuesday of the acting Secretary of the Navy.
Camus’ ‘The Plague’ Becomes a Bestseller in Japan
TOKYO — The printing of Albert Camus’ “The Plague” in Japanese shot above the cumulative million mark, with 154,000 copies going into extra printing seven times since February.
People have been snatching up copies since the coronavirus pandemic hit, and a bookstore chain limited purchases to one copy per buyer to curtail literary hoarding.
“The book is offering insight for people on the basic question of how we must live life when we are all faced with these insular times,” publisher Shinchosha spokesman Morito Mamiya said Wednesday.
The novel, first published in French in 1947, and in Japanese in 1969, portrays the dilemma of human existence as a North African city gets overtaken by the plague. On a regular year, about 5,000 copies of the classic get sold in Japan, but it’s now No. 1 for literature at major Japanese bookstores.
Albania’s Strict Lockdown Keeps Some Citizens Out
TIRANA, Albania — Forty Albanian citizens waiting at the two border crossings with Greece were let in and accommodated at hotels under quarantine for 14 days, the health ministry reports on Wednesday.
Authorities have closed the borders “to protect the life of the people inside and outside of Albania,” according to Prime Minister Edi Rama.
Only those coming for an emergency to check on families will be allowed to enter the country and Albanians with foreign citizenship are not allowed in.
Spokeswoman Etiola Kola said 35 Albanians were quarantined at a hotel after crossing the southeastern Kapshtice border checkpoint Tuesday evening.
News media on Wednesday reported five others crossing the border in southern Kakavia, both with neighboring Greece, where hundreds of thousands of Albanians live since emigrating after the fall of the communist regime in 1990.
They had been waiting there for about three days. Many Albanians with Greek residence documents were not allowed enter in.
Their expenses for 14 days of quarantine will be billed to their families.
Albania has reported 400 Covid-19 cases and 22 deaths as of Wednesday. The relatively low figures are attributed to rigid restrictions in the country.
Courthouse News contributed to this report.