The denial came as world governments were debating how and when to ease lockdowns that have kept more than half of humanity — 4.5 billion people — confined to their homes and crippled the global economy.
Many of the world’s 260 million Orthodox Christians were forced to mark Easter at home on Sunday, with church leaders telling worshippers to stay indoors and conducting services online or on television. But in Belarus, President Alexander Lukashenko, who has cast doubt on the gravity of the pandemic and allowed events such as football matches to continue, defiantly visited a church without a face mask.
Hoping to spread cheer to those under lockdown, the world’s top musicians — from the Rolling Stones to Taylor Swift, Stevie Wonder and teen superstar Billie Eilish — joined forces for a virtual mega-concert on Saturday. The six-hour online event aimed to cultivate a sense of community during a pandemic that has killed at least 1,60,000 people worldwide, with more than 2.3 million confirmed infections.
The virus was probably first transmitted to humans at a Wuhan market where exotic animals were slaughtered, according to Chinese scientists. But conspiracy theories that the virus came from a maximum-security virology lab have been brought into the mainstream by U.S. government officials.
“There’s no way this virus came from us,” Yuan Zhiming, the head of the P4 laboratory at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which is equipped to handle dangerous viruses, said in an interview with state media. “I know it’s impossible.”
The U.S. has the highest caseload of any country, with more than 7,35,000 confirmed infections, and over 39,000 deaths.
But as Americans and others around the world chafe after weeks under stay-at-home orders, resentment is rising. Anti-lockdown protests on Saturday drew hundreds of people in states including Texas, Maryland, New Hampshire and Ohio.
The small but spreading movement drew encouragement from Mr. Trump, who tweeted that three States should be “liberated” from the stay-home orders.
Elsewhere, a patchwork of countries including Switzerland, Denmark and Finland began reopening shops and schools. Germany is set to follow suit on Monday with some shops back open after declaring the virus “under control”, while Italy — at one time the European epicentre of the crisis — was tentatively mulling easing restrictions.
Iran allowed some businesses to reopen Saturday despite being home to West Asia’s deadliest outbreak.
Back in Wuhan, there was an emotional return to the city for the Chinese Super League football team after more than three months stranded on the roa. Wearing masks, the players had bouquets of flowers thrust into their hands as supporters held banners and sang to welcome them home.