COVID-19: Russia Reports Largest Daily Increase Of Cases; 10,000 Graves Dug In Tehran
The global death toll from the coronavirus is more than 110,000 with almost 1.8 million infections confirmed, causing mass disruptions as governments continue to try to slow the spread of the new respiratory illness.
Here's a roundup of COVID-19 developments in RFE/RL's broadcast regions.
Russia on April 12 reported the largest daily increase of coronavirus cases since the start of the outbreak, as the authorities announced restrictions on Easter church services in and around Moscow to contain the spread of the disease.
The Russian Orthodox Church, which will observe Easter this year on April 19, ordered churches to close their doors to large groups during the holy week leading up to the holiday.
Meanwhile, Russia's coronavirus crisis task force reported 2,186 new coronavirus cases in the country, raising the total number to 15,770.
The number of coronavirus-related deaths rose by 24 to 130, it said.
The official tally has been doubted by critics in Russia and abroad, who suspect the number is being undercounted by health authorities.
Moscow and many other regions have been in lockdown for nearly two weeks, but Russian officials on April 11 warned of a "huge influx" of new coronavirus infections and said that hospitals in the Moscow area were quickly nearing capacity.
"We are seeing hospitals in Moscow working extremely intensely, in heroic, emergency mode," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said during a television interview.
Peskov described the situation in both Moscow and St. Petersburg as "quite tense because the number of sick people is growing."
Authorities and doctors in Bulgaria are urging citizens to stay home and pray in their homes for traditional Palm Sunday and Easter services.
Churches have remained open in Bulgaria despite the coronavirus outbreak. Services at major churches are due to be broadcast live for worshippers.
Prime Minister Boyko Borisov said on April 11 that churches will remain open, saying many people were desperate and in low spirits. He, however, urged Bulgarians to stay home.
"A difficult decision but I am ready to bear the reproaches," Borisov told reporters.
"The bishops told me that there are many people who are in low spirits, desperate. So I just cannot issue such an order [to close churches]," he added.
Thousands attend Easter church services in the Balkan country.
Bulgaria has been in a state of emergency since March 13. Schools and most shops are closed and there are restrictions on intercity travel and access to parks. All domestic and foreign vacation trips are banned.
The country has so far reported 669 confirmed COVID-19 cases, and 28 deaths.
Iran's death toll from COVID-19 has risen by 117 in the past day to 4,474, Health Ministry spokesman Kianush Jahanpur said on April 12.
The country has recorded 71,686 cases of the coronavirus that causes the disease, Jahanpur added. Some 1,657 new cases of coronavirus were confirmed in the past 24 hours, he said.
Iran has been the country hardest hit by the pandemic in the Middle East. Many Iranian and international experts think Iran's government, which has been criticized for a slow initial response, is intentionally reducing its tally of the pandemic.
Ten thousand graves have been dug in a new section of the Behesht Zahra cemetery south of the Iranian capital to deal with coronavirus deaths, an official with Tehran's municipality was quoted as saying by the official government news agency IRNA on April 12.
Meanwhile, Iranian President Hassan Rohani said that restrictions on travel between cities within each province in the country have been lifted.
He said restrictions on travel between provinces will be lifted on April 20.
In the past days, Tehran has reopened some "low-risk" businesses in most parts of the country with the exception of the capital, Tehran, where they will reopen from April 18, official media have reported.
Iranian authorities have called on citizens to respect health protocols and social-distancing measures as the country struggles to curb the deadly outbreak.
The government is concerned that measures to shut down businesses and halt economic activities to contain the outbreak could wreck an already sanctions-battered economy.
The United States has offered humanitarian aid to Iran, but the country's leaders have rejected it and demanded that sanctions be lifted.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has appealed to international stakeholders for urgent debt relief for Pakistan and other developing countries to help them deal more effectively with the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.
In a video message released by the Foreign Ministry on April 12, Khan said that "highly indebted countries" lack "fiscal space" to spend both on the fight against the virus and on health and social support.
He said he appealed to world leaders, the heads of financial institutions, and the secretary-general of the United Nations to get together to announce a debt relief initiative for developing countries.
Pakistan has recorded 5,232 coronavirus cases, with 91 deaths.
The South Asian nation's already struggling economy has been hit hard by nationwide lockdowns that have brought economic activity to a halt.
Pakistan is more than 0 billion in debt to foreign lenders and spends the largest chunk of its budget on servicing its debt.
In his Easter sermon, the head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Catholicos Garegin II, urged Armenians to display "national unity" in the face of the coronavirus crisis.
Leading the Mass at an empty St. Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral in Yerevan on April 12, Garegin called on "the sons and daughters of our nation in the homeland and in the diaspora to give a helping hand to our government authorities in their efforts to overcome the difficult situation created by the pandemic."
He also called for global solidarity to contain the spread of the virus and what he described as even greater "evils," including "materialism," poverty, and armed conflicts.
The Mass, broadcast live on national television, was attended by only two dozen clergymen and a smaller-than-usual choir.[rebelmouse-proxy-image https://media.rbl.ms/image?u=%2Fproxy%2F0j8lmZ30tqvGI7p40mbbeh-iddjMEj_TrxEL8GZ7gUiVA0eMtSMEqbSSLmSGXtl8ujqBcb4lja8uNx2mI3wQp5lUjnstQu-mKTuxKKg44xZITiFrDQk25Ic&ho=https%3A%2F%2Flh3.googleusercontent.com&s=934&h=e9c18fc442a8f5762418e944a3b7ecf0659d777d65b51ee78cc1fdcb9c93d8cf&size=980x&c=4246473462 crop_info="%7B%22image%22%3A%20%22https%3A//media.rbl.ms/image%3Fu%3D%252Fproxy%252F0j8lmZ30tqvGI7p40mbbeh-iddjMEj_TrxEL8GZ7gUiVA0eMtSMEqbSSLmSGXtl8ujqBcb4lja8uNx2mI3wQp5lUjnstQu-mKTuxKKg44xZITiFrDQk25Ic%26ho%3Dhttps%253A%252F%252Flh3.googleusercontent.com%26s%3D934%26h%3De9c18fc442a8f5762418e944a3b7ecf0659d777d65b51ee78cc1fdcb9c93d8cf%26size%3D980x%26c%3D4246473462%22%7D" expand=1]
After the service, Garegin blessed a small group of believers who had gathered outside Armenia's largest cathedral.
Sunday services in all churches across Armenia have been held behind closed doors since the government on March 16 declared a state of emergency over the coronavirus outbreak, which has officially infected 1,013 people in the South Caucasus country and killed 13.
The Armenian Apostolic Church has restricted church attendance on weekdays and instructed parish churches to live-stream liturgies online, when possible.
This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.