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Pope presides over haunting Good Friday procession under lockdown

Pope Francis entered a torch-lit, but hauntingly empty Saint Peter’s Square for a Good Friday procession under a lockdown caused by a coronavirus that has…

Pope Francis entered a torch-lit, but hauntingly empty Saint Peter’s Square for a Good Friday procession under a lockdown caused by a coronavirus that has claimed 100,000 lives worldwide.

The Argentine-born pontiff walked up to his podium flanked by five prison inmates from the hard-hit northern Italian city of Padua and five Vatican doctors and nurses.

Their presence was a tribute to the victims of a disease that has officially claimed nearly 19,000 lives in surrounding Italy — a higher toll than in any other country and nearly a fifth of the world’s reported total.

The dramatic Way of the Cross ceremony around Rome’s sumptuously illuminated Colosseum has taken place every year since 1964, normally with thousands of faithful.

But both the Vatican and Italy have been under a virus-imposed lockdown and the 83-year-old pontiff has been communicating with the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics by live-stream.

Earlier, Francis had said that medics and priests who died after becoming infected while looking after COVID-19 victims “gave their lives out of love, like soldiers at the front”.

READ: Pope tests negative for coronavirus

Dozens of priests and at least 100 doctors are believed to have died of the novel coronavirus in Italy.

Meanwhile Lithuanian police set up hundreds of checkpoints nationwide on Friday to enforce an Easter travel ban imposed to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“Police set up around 300 checkpoints across the country,” spokesman Ramunas Matonis told AFP.

The Baltic EU state banned travel between municipalities from Friday evening to Monday to deter people from visiting their relatives and friends to celebrate Easter.

There are exceptions for people returning home, going to work or attending funerals.

Fines for breaking the rules start at 250 euros ($230).

The government also made wearing face masks mandatory in public.

Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis said his cabinet could ease the coronavirus lockdown measures for small businesses from next week if the situation remains stable over the weekend.

Lithuania has been in lockdown since March 16, including the closure of all pubs, restaurants, schools, universities, kindergartens and most shops.

The Baltic country of 2.8 million people currently has 999 confirmed COVID-19 infections, with 22 deaths. (AFP)

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