Coronavirus: Pope Francis calls for global ceasefire amid outbreak

He echoed a call by United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres so the world can focus on fighting the pandemic

FILE PHOTO: Pope Francis is pictured at St. Peter's Square during an extraordinary "Urbi et Orbi" (to the city and the world) blessing - normally given only at Christmas and Easter - as a response to the global coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, at the Vatican, March 27, 2020. REUTERS/Yara Nardi/Pool/File Photo
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Pope Francis on Sunday backed a call by United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for a global ceasefire so the world can focus on fighting the coronavirus pandemic.

Speaking at his weekly blessing, delivered from the official papal library instead of St. Peter's Square because of the lockdown in Italy, Pope Francis specifically mentioned the appeal Mr Guterres made in a virtual news conference on Monday.

Saying the disease knows no borders, Pope Francis appealed to everyone to "stop every form of bellicose hostility and to favour the creation of corridors for humanitarian help, diplomatic efforts and attention to those who find themselves in situations of great vulnerability".

More than 662,700 people have been infected by the novel coronavirus across the world and 30,751 have died.

 

About a third of the deaths have been in Italy, where the toll passed 10,000 on Saturday, a figure that made an extension of a national lockdown almost certain.

Confirmed cases in Italy stood at 92,472, the second-highest number of cases in the world behind the United States.

The Vatican, a 108-acre city-state surrounded by Rome, has had six confirmed cases and on Saturday spokesman Matteo Bruni said tests were carried out after a priest who lives in the papal residence tested positive.

Mr Bruni said the pope and his closest aides did not have the disease.

The social effects of the pandemic have drawn comparisons with painful periods such as World War Two, the 2008 financial crisis and the 1918 Spanish flu outbreak which killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide.

The United Nations has been trying to mediate an end to conflicts in countries including Syria, Yemen and Libya, while also providing humanitarian assistance to millions of civilians.

Mr Guterres warned that in war-torn countries health systems have collapsed and the small number of health professionals left were often targeted in the fighting.

In his Sunday address, Pope Francis also appealed to authorities to be sensitive to the particular problem coronavirus poses in prisons around the world, many of them overcrowded.

He said the prison situation "could become a tragedy".

Prisoners have rioted in a number of countries, including Italy, where at least six inmates died earlier this month. Prisoners rioted at a jail in northeastern Thailand on Sunday.

Several countries, including Germany, Sudan and Iran, have released inmates in order to reduce the strain on their prison systems.

Spain and Italy have demanded more European help as they fight still-surging coronavirus infections amid the continent's worst crisis since World War II. In the US, authorities urged millions in the hard-hit New York City region to stop traveling to keep the virus contained.

From Milan to Madrid to Michigan, medics are making tough choices about which patients to save with the limited breathing machines they have. The confirmed global death surpassed 30,000 and new virus epicentres emerged in key US cities like Detroit, New Orleans and Chicago. Even rural America has not been immune, as virus hotspots erupt in Midwestern towns and in Rocky Mountain ski havens.

Spain and Italy alone account for more than half of the world's death toll, and are still seeing over 800 deaths a day each.

Experts say, however, that virus toll numbers across the world are being seriously under-represented due to limited testing and political decisions about which bodies to count. Unlike the US, France and Italy do not count deaths that take place in nursing homes or in homes among their virus numbers even though nursing homes are known to be key coronavirus incubators around the world.

''Europe must demonstrate that it is able to respond to this historic call," Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte said late Saturday. "I will fight until the last drop of sweat, until the last gram of energy, to obtain a strong, vigorous, cohesive European response."

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