Finaaly, Pope ‘tests negative for coronavirus

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Pope Francis, who is suffering from a cold, has tested negative for the coronavirus, an Italian newspaper reported Tuesday, as Italy battles Europe’s worst outbreak. Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni did not respond to a request for comment on the report in the Messaggero newspaper. 

Francis cancelled a Lent retreat for the first time in his papacy this weekend, after axing all public meetings at the end of last week over the cold. The new coronavirus has spread from China across much of the world, with Italy among the worst affected with over 2,000 people infected and 52 deaths. 

The 83-year-old pontiff has been seen coughing and blowing his nose, but the Vatican on Sunday quickly shot down speculation that the pope himself had come down with COVID-19. The Messaggero report did not say when Francis had been tested for the disease. 

Recall that Pope Francis postponed his official appointments Friday and was working from home, the Vatican said, a day after cancelling a scheduled appearance at mass because of “a mild ailment”. Francis, 83, had appeared earlier in the week to be suffering from a cold. 

He was seen blowing his nose and coughing during the Ash Wednesday service, and his voice sounded hoarse. He celebrated morning mass as usual and greeted participants at the end, but cleared his diary of everything apart from meetings at the Saint Martha’s guest house at the Vatican he lives, chief press officer Matteo Bruni said in a statement. Bruni had said Thursday that Francis was suffering from “a mild ailment”. 

The decision to cancel public appointments for a second day in a row came as Italy grapples with the largest outbreak of the coronavirus in Europe, with some 650 cases and 17 deaths. The Vatican made no reference to the disease in its announcement. 

Francis has not previously curtailed any of his activities, which often include mingling with crowds and shaking hands. The pontiff, who lost part of a lung as a young man and suffers from sciatica, very rarely skips appointments in his busy schedule. 

On Sunday he is due to go on a spiritual retreat with the entire Roman Curia — the Holy See’s administrative institutions — after presiding over the weekly Angelus prayer from a window overlooking Saint Peter’s Square. 

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