Vatican City takes health measures on COVID-19 risk

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Pope Francis greets people, including a woman wearing a mask as protection against the coronavirus, during his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on 26 February, 2020. PHOTO: CNS/Paul Haring

The Vatican has implemented special health measures and cancelled some events as more than 500 people have tested positive for coronavirus in Italy.

Hand sanitiser dispensers have been installed in Vatican City offices, and there is a nurse and a doctor on call at a Vatican clinic to give immediate assistance, Holy See Press Office Director Matteo Bruni told Vatican News.

While there have been no diagnosed cases of the coronavirus in Vatican City, Bruni said on 24 February that Vatican health staff have worked with the Italian Ministry of Health on procedures which can be brought into action, and are in close contact with the regional authorities in Lazio.

“In compliance with the provisions of the Italian authorities, some events scheduled for the next few days in indoor places and with an important influx of public have been postponed,” Bruni said.

With Pope Francis’ Lenten retreat scheduled for March 1-6, there are no papal audiences scheduled for next week, but conferences in Rome and other indoor events have been cancelled.

People wear masks as protection against the coronavirus as Pope Francis leads his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Feb. 26, 2020. PHOTO: CNS/Paul Haring

A conference schedule to take place March 5-6 at the Pontifical Gregorian University on the opening of Vatican archives of Pope Pius XII has been cancelled, as has a March 2-7 communications workshop at the Pontifical Urbaniana University for global representatives of the Pontifical Missions Societies.

An event for a book on Cardinal Celso Costantini 25 February, at which Cardinals Pietro Parolin, Luis Antonio Tagle, and Fernando Filoni were expected to speak, was cancelled due to coronavirus concerns.

As of 27 February, Pope Francis is still scheduled to give his Sunday Angelus address on March 1 before leaving for his Lenten retreat.

Pope Francis did not cancel his Wednesday general audience on 26 February, but he was later seen coughing during his Ash Wednesday Mass.

The pope chose not to attend a scheduled liturgy with priests in Rome on 27 February “due to a slight indisposition,” according to the Holy See press office. However, the pope’s other appointments, such as Mass in the chapel of the Casa Santa Marta, took place as usual.

Italian authorities reported 528 cases of the coronavirus on 27 February with 14 deaths. Nearly all of the reported cases are in northern Italy. In response to the outbreak, Italian officials have also imposed quarantine restrictions on several towns in the Lombardy and Veneto regions, where most of the infections have occurred.

The Archdiocese of Milan suspended Masses beginning on the evening of 23 February until further notice. The Patriarch of Venice, Archbishop Francesco Moraglia, suspended Masses and other liturgical celebrations, including baptisms and Stations of the Cross, until Sunday March 1.

In Rome’s region of Lazio there have been just three reported cases: an Italian, who has recovered, and two Chinese tourists, who are being treated in a hospital.

“I wish to express again my closeness to the coronavirus patients and the health workers who treat them, as well as to the civil authorities and all those who are working to assist the patients and stop the infection,” Pope Francis said on 26 February.