Pope delivers blessing over empty St Peter’s Square

Vatican City, March 16 (IANS) Pope Francis delivered a blessing over an empty St Peters Square as Italy remained in lockdown over the coronavirus pandemic.

For a second Sunday, Francis delivered his remarks from inside the Apostolic Library at the Vatican, reports the Metro newspaper.

He praised people who might risk contagion to help the poor and homeless.

Also on Sunday, the Vatican confirmed that Holy Week ceremonies would take place without the “physical presence of the faithful”.

It said until April 12, when Easter Sunday is celebrated this year, all the general audiences on Wednesday as well as Francis's weekly Sunday noon prayer will be streamed online.

Among popular Holy Week ceremonies is the Good Friday Way of the Cross procession at Rome's Colosseum.

Holy Week ceremonies usually draw tens of thousands of people to Rome but, with Italy being the epicentre of the COVID-19 outbreak in Europe, tourism in the country has vanished.

While the virus has begun spreading rapidly across Europe, Italy remains the second most heavily affected country after China, where the virus first emerged last December, the Metro newspaper reported.

On Sunday, 368 new deaths from the coronavirus were reported in the country in 24 hours, an increase of 25 per cent. This is the highest number yet, bringing the total number to 1,809.

The number of positive cases rose to 24,747 from 21,157 a day earlier.



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