Pope tested for coronavirus


Italian newspaper Il Messaggero has reported that Pope Francis, who cancelled a Lent retreat for the first time in his papacy because he is suffering from a cold, has tested negative for coronavirus.

Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said he had no immediate comment on the report.

The 83-year-old Roman Catholic leader, who had part of one lung removed because of an illness decades ago, also cancelled most audiences last week.

Pope Francis was to have taken part in the week-long retreat with senior Vatican officials that began on Sunday night at a Church residence south of Rome.

But in a surprise announcement hours earlier, he said he would be following it from his residence in a Vatican guesthouse.

He has been taken ill at a time when Italy is battling a surging outbreak of the potentially deadly coronavirus.

The death toll in Italy jumped to 52 on Monday from 34 the day before, and the total number of confirmed cases in Europe's worst affected country climbed past the 2000 mark.

Last week Pope Francis was seen coughing and blowing his nose during Ash Wednesday Mass, the New York Post reported.

During a General Audience in St. Peter's Square on Ash Wednesday, he expressed his support for coronavirus sufferers.

"I wish, again, to express my closeness to those who are ill with coronavirus and to health care workers who are caring for them," he said, according to Vatican News.

The Pope did not specifically meet with coronavirus sufferers, but shook hands with the faithful in the front row during the audience.

He also kissed a baby during his Popemobile spin through St Peter's Square and greeted visiting bishops.

But the clergy members appeared to refrain from kissing his ring or embracing him as they normally would.