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Italian government closes St. Peter's Basilica and square, due to coronavirus

coronavirus vatican

ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP

John Burger - published on 03/10/20

COVID-19's effects reach the Vatican.

The outbreak of COVID-19, the coronavirus disease that has infected over 100,000 persons worldwide, has led to the closing of St. Peter’s Basilica and square in Vatican City.

A day after Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte ordered a lockdown of the entire country of Italy, which has Europe’s worst outbreak of the disease, Italian authorities closed St. Peter’s Square. The Holy See Press Office said March 10 that St. Peter’s Basilica and square are closed to tourists and guided visits from Tuesday through April 3, in coordination with the measures taken by the Italian authorities, Catholic News Agency.

A Catholic News Service reporter spoke of an “impressive silence” inside the basilica. “Only a ‘handful of guards’ were in the basilica, and just a few priests and nuns were praying in side chapels before the Blessed Sacrament,” the news service said. “A nun and a man were seen praying in front of a side altar.”

The reporter said the Vatican-run bathrooms and showers for the city’s homeless were operational, but officials were only allowing one person at a time inside to use the facilities.

The Diocese of Rome canceled public Masses on March 8 to abide by a government decree, CNA said, but priests who reside in the diocese are allowed to celebrate Mass privately.

On Tuesday, Pope Francis, the bishop of Rome, prayed that priests would “find the courage to visit those who are sick and offer accompaniment to health care professionals and volunteers working during the coronavirus epidemic while also keeping themselves and others safe,” CNS reported.

Italy’s epidemic has been pretty much confined to the northern parts of the country, and those areas were under a lockdown, but Monday night, the country extended its emergency coronavirus measures, which include travel restrictions and a ban on public gatherings, to the entire country, according to the BBC. Conte ordered people to stay home and seek permission for essential travel.

Italy is the worst-hit country after China. Its coronavirus death toll rose from 366 to 463 on Monday.

On Sunday, the Vatican closed the Vatican Museums, the necropolis and other museums connected with the Vatican.

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