China has recorded no new confirmed cases of coronavirus for the first time since the outbreak began, as Muslims around the world prepared for Eid celebrations under a range of restrictions.
Beijing’s National Health Commission said on Saturday there were only two suspected cases in mainland China: in Shanghai and in the north-eastern Jilian province. New asymptomatic cases fell to 28 from 35 a day earlier, it said.
Confirmed cases in the mainland remain at 82,971, and the death toll at 4,634. The global toll stands at more than 5.2 million cases and 338,000 deaths.
The economic effect of the virus lockdown in the US claimed one of its largest business names on Friday night, with car rental giant Hertz Global Holdings Inc filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the US. The company – which earns a large part of its revenue from car rentals at airports – is struggling under nearly $19bn of debt and has 38,000 staff worldwide.
Its international operating regions including Europe, Australia and New Zealand were not included in the US proceedings.
On Friday, Donald Trump appeared briefly to declare churches, mosques and synagogues “essential services” and threatened to override governors who refused to reopen them this weekend – a power he does not possess. “In America we need more prayer, not less,” he said. During Friday’s White House briefing, Trump’s press secretary also unfortunately appeared to reveal the president’s private bank details.
Preparations are under way for Eid al-Fitr on Sunday, a celebration marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, to be held under the shadow of the virus, with millions confined to their homes and others gripped by economic concerns during what is usually a festive time.
The weekend marks a “critical moment” for Indonesia, the world’s biggest Muslim majority nation, said Doni Monardo, the head of the country’s Covid-19 mitigation taskforce, after reports thousands were trying to evade the travel ban to reach their home towns for the festival.
Some were even turning to smugglers and fake travel documents and some mosques are expected to draw big crowds despite official calls to pray at home. “I’m afraid people who go to other regions will come back infected and all of our efforts will be wasted,” Monardo said.
Every year, millions of travellers pack into airports, train stations and ports across the nation in a mass migration known as “Mudik” and similar to China’s Lunar New Year holiday or Christmas.
Indonesia recorded its biggest one-day jump in virus cases this week with the nationwide death toll at 1,326 – the highest in Asia outside China. But infections and deaths are widely believed to be much higher in the country of more than 260 million, where testing rates have been among the lowest in the world.
Some countries, including Turkey, Iraq and Jordan, will impose round-the-clock curfews for the duration of Eid. In Saudi Arabia home to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina people will be allowed to leave their homes only to buy food and medicine.
Even in countries that have largely reopened, the holiday won’t be the same.
Most restrictions have been lifted in Jerusalem, but the al-Aqsa mosque compound – the third-holiest site in Islam – will remain closed until after the three-day holiday.
In Egypt, authorities have extended the nighttime curfew, which will now begin at 5pm instead of 9pm, and halted public transportation until 29 May.
India’s 172 million Muslims are also preparing for a subdued holiday, with large gatherings banned. They have faced heightened stigma, threats and boycotts by many Hindus, who blame the local outbreak on a three-day convention of Islamic missionaries held in March.
In some states, Indian Muslims have launched campaigns urging people to refrain from buying new clothes for the holiday and instead give to the needy.
In Iran, which has endured the deadliest outbreak in the Middle East, authorities have imposed few restrictions ahead of the holiday aside from cancelling mass prayers in Tehran traditionally led by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Iran has faced criticism for not imposing the kind of lockdown seen elsewhere in the region It has reported nearly 130,000 cases and more than 7,000 deaths, but the rate of new infections has declined in recent weeks.
In Iraq, the government has allowed most businesses to reopen in the last few weeks but plans to reinstate a 24-hour curfew over the holiday.
Mexico on Friday registered a record for coronavirus deaths on a single day, posting 479 more fatalities along with 2,960 new infections, according to the health ministry. Authorities have now reported 62,527 total cases and 6,989 deaths since detecting the first cases in Mexico in late February. The previous peak in fatalities was 20 May, when authorities reported 424 deaths.