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French Catholics celebrate mass in parking lot, while summer weather tests European lockdowns

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A priest wearing a face mask hands a host to a person sitting in a car as they celebrate France's first ever drive-in mass in Chalons en Champagne, after the country began a gradual end to the nationwide lockdown following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, near Reims, France, May 17, 2020. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

A priest wearing a face mask hands a host to a person sitting in a car as they celebrate France's first ever drive-in mass in Chalons en Champagne, after the country began a gradual end to the nationwide lockdown following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, near Reims, France, May 17, 2020. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

REUTERS

A priest wearing a face mask hands a host to a person sitting in a car as they celebrate France's first ever drive-in mass in Chalons en Champagne, after the country began a gradual end to the nationwide lockdown following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, near Reims, France, May 17, 2020. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

Roman Catholics in a town in eastern France were able to attend mass in their cars on Sunday, in the country's first drive-in religious service since the start of a lockdown eight weeks ago aimed at halting the spread of the coronavirus.

The mass, held in the town of Chalons-en-Champagne, began with priests in white robes and wearing black face masks holding a procession through the parking lot, as a hymn was played and cars honked their horns.

The local bishop, Francois Touvet, stood on a podium in front of the cars as he led the service. Priests later gave out communion wafers to the faithful as they sat in their cars.

The virus outbreak and government restrictions on all public gatherings, intended to curb the spread of the virus, have forced many people in France and around the world to come up with innovative solutions to continue their activities.

France began cautiously to emerge from its lockdown on May 11, but indoor religious services remain banned until the end of the month as the government seeks to contain the risks of a second wave of infections.

"It (the lockdown) was really a deprivation for Catholics, as it was for other religions, not being able to gather in our places of worship... We very quickly came up with the idea of this formula of a drive-in mass," Bishop Touvet said.

Masks and sanitiser

"People are in their cars, they come from the same apartment or the same house, they have alcohol gels and masks. The cars are one metre apart from each other, we give communion, and then we wash our hands," Touvet added.

Worshippers are prohibited from leaving their vehicle, car-pooling is banned and a maximum number of four people from the same household are allowed per vehicle.

France has so far reported 142,291 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus and 27,625 deaths, among the world's highest fatality rates.

One worshipper, Michelle, was delighted to be able to attend mass again.

"There's mass on television but it's not the same as being with the community at a Sunday service," she said.

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Priests wearing face masks celebrate France's first ever drive-in mass in Chalons en Champagne, after the country began a gradual end to the nationwide lockdown following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, near Reims, France, May 17, 2020. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

Priests wearing face masks celebrate France's first ever drive-in mass in Chalons en Champagne, after the country began a gradual end to the nationwide lockdown following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, near Reims, France, May 17, 2020. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

REUTERS

Priests wearing face masks celebrate France's first ever drive-in mass in Chalons en Champagne, after the country began a gradual end to the nationwide lockdown following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, near Reims, France, May 17, 2020. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

Similar drive-in masses have taken place in other countries including Poland, where a priest has started taking confessions from the faithful in the parking lot of his church in Warsaw.

In Greece, by contrast, after the easing of a ban on public gatherings, thousands of people returned to church on Sunday after weeks of having to stay away.

Sunny days

Meanwhile, summer weather is enticing much of the world to emerge from coronavirus lockdowns as centres of the outbreak from New York to Italy and Spain gradually lift restrictions that have kept millions indoors for months.

People are streaming back to beaches, parks and streets just as a heat wave hits southern Europe and spring-like temperatures allow Americans to shed winter coats. As they venture out again, most are keeping their distance and some are wearing masks. However, protests are also heating up from Germany to England to the United States, arguing the government restrictions demolish personal liberties and are wrecking economies.

Greeks flocked to the seaside on Saturday when more than 500 beaches reopened, coinciding with temperatures of 34 Celsius.

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People visit a beach along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea during a heatwave in Israel as restrictions following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) ease around the country, in Tel Aviv, Israel May 17, 2020. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

People visit a beach along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea during a heatwave in Israel as restrictions following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) ease around the country, in Tel Aviv, Israel May 17, 2020. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

REUTERS

People visit a beach along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea during a heatwave in Israel as restrictions following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) ease around the country, in Tel Aviv, Israel May 17, 2020. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

Umbrella poles had to be 13 ft apart, with canopies no closer than 1 meter as the country sought to walk the fine line between protecting people from Covid-19 while reviving the tourism sector that many depend on for their livelihoods.

"This is the best thing for us elderly ... to come and relax a bit after being locked in," Yannis Tentomas, who is in his 70s, said as he settled down on the sand.

White circles were painted on the lawn in Brooklyn's Domino Park in New York City to help sunbathers and picnickers keep a safe distance.

About half the people in the park appeared to be wearing some form of face covering as they congregated in small groups on a warm Saturday afternoon with New York police officers in masks keeping watch.

New York, New Jersey and other states plan to reopen some beaches in time for the Memorial Day holiday weekend later this month that unofficially marks the start of summer in the United States.

In Paris' Bois de Boulogne, health training worker Anne Chardon was carrying disinfectant gel and a mask but said that she felt a sense of freedom again for the first time after weeks of confinement.

"It's as if we were in Sleeping Beauty's castle, all asleep, all frozen, and suddenly there's light and space, suddenly we can experience again the little joys of everyday, in the spaces that belong to us, and that we're rediscovering."

'Make corona go away'

People also seemed mostly to be keeping their distance in photos of boys playing football in Virgiliano Park in Naples and bathers seeking relief from the heat in Tel Aviv on the beaches along the Mediterranean Sea.

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People on the beach at Brighton after the introduction of measures to bring the country out of lockdown. PA Photo. Picture date: Sunday May 17, 2020. See PA story HEALTH Coronavirus. Photo credit should read: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

People on the beach at Brighton after the introduction of measures to bring the country out of lockdown. PA Photo. Picture date: Sunday May 17, 2020. See PA story HEALTH Coronavirus. Photo credit should read: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

PA

People on the beach at Brighton after the introduction of measures to bring the country out of lockdown. PA Photo. Picture date: Sunday May 17, 2020. See PA story HEALTH Coronavirus. Photo credit should read: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

"We hope that the hot water, weather, make corona go away," said Lilach Vardi, a woman who came to swim in the Dead Sea in Israel, as a lifeguard tried to fry an egg in a pan in the scorching sand nearby.

In Tunisia, which reported no new Covid-19 cases over four consecutive days last week, people flooded into the streets and to recently reopened shops with little social-distancing.

Muslims are nearing the Eid al-Fitr holiday ending the holy month of Ramadan, when many celebrate with new purchases.

"I stayed at home for two months and almost went crazy," said one woman at Tunis' Manar City Mall. "I'm surprised by the crowd but I need to buy clothes for my children for Eid."

But throughout the world, small pockets of protesters bristled at any restrictions.

Thousands of Germans took to the streets across the country on Saturday to demonstrate against restrictions imposed by the government.

In London's Hyde Park, police arrested 19 people on Saturday for deliberately breaking social distancing guidelines in protest at the rules, on the first weekend since Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a slight loosening of England's lockdown.

Reuters