Pope Francis cancels official engagements for third day in a row

Pope Francis cancels official engagements for third day in a row with apparent cold symptoms in coronavirus-hit Italy

  • The 83-year-old as never cancelled so many official audiences during his papacy
  • Francis last appeared in public on Wednesday, when he was seen to be coughing
  • It comes as coronavirus has now infected more than 800 people in Italy alone

Pope Francis has cancelled official engagements for the third day in a row as he battles an apparent cold.

The 83-year-old, who lost part of a lung to a respiratory illness as a young man, has never cancelled so many official audiences or events in his seven-year papacy.

He is continuing to work from his residence at the Vatican’s Santa Marta hotel and is receiving people in private, the Vatican press office said.

On Saturday, those private meetings were with the head of the Vatican’s bishops’ office, Francis’s ambassadors to Lebanon and France and a Ukrainian archbishop.

The 83-year-old, who lost part of a lung to a respiratory illness as a young man, has never cancelled so many official audiences or events in his seven-year papacy (he is pictured on February 26, where he was seen coughing)

Cancelled were his two planned official audiences – formal affairs in the Apostolic Palace where Francis would have delivered a speech and greeted a great number of people at the end.

Those were to include an audience with an international bioethics organisation and with members of the scandal-marred Legion of Christ religious order.

On Sunday, Francis is expected to leave the Vatican with top Holy See bureaucrats for a week of spiritual exercises in the Roman countryside, an annual retreat at the start of Lent.

Francis last appeared in public on Wednesday, when he was seen coughing and blowing his nose during an Ash Wednesday Mass. The following day, he cancelled a Mass across town with Roman priests and on Friday he skipped an audience with participants of a Vatican conference on artificial intelligence.

Pope Francis, pictured on Ash Wednesday this week when he appeared to have a cold, has scrapped his official audiences

The Vatican has stressed that Francis has celebrated Mass each morning and greeted attendees at the end, and then proceeded to continue working from home.

The Vatican has not revealed the nature of Francis’s illness, saying only he has a ‘slight indisposition’.

It comes amid general alarm in Italy over the coronavirus outbreak, which has infected more than 800 people, mostly in northern Italy.

The list of countries touched by the illness has climbed to nearly 60 as Mexico, Belarus, Lithuania, New Zealand, Nigeria, Azerbaijan, Iceland and the Netherlands reported their first cases.

More than 84,000 people worldwide have contracted the illness, with deaths topping 2,800.

China, where the outbreak began in December, has seen a slowdown in new infections and on Saturday morning reported 427 new cases over the past 24 hours along with 47 additional deaths. The city at the epicentre of the outbreak, Wuhan, accounted for the bulk of both.

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