Vatican City, Mar 7, 2020 / 12:30 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis will lead the Sunday Angelus prayer via video link, the Vatican has announced. The pope will also hold this week’s Wednesday general audience in the same way. The decision was taken in response to ongoing concerns about the spread of coronavirus in Italy and Vatican City.

Traditionally, the pope leads the Angelus from the balcony of the Apostolic Palace overlooking St. Peter’s Square and holds the general audience either in the square or in the Paul VI Hall in the Vatican. Both events will now be held in the library of the Apostolic Palace and live streamed.

The decision to hold the events by video broadcast only was announced in a communique issued by the Vatican press office on March 7.

“With regard to the events of the coming days, the Angelus prayer led by the Holy Father on Sunday 8 March will take place in the Library of the Apostolic Palace and not in the square, from the window,” the statement said.

“The prayer will be streamed live by Vatican News and on screens in Saint Peter’s Square, and distributed by Vatican Media to the media who will request it, so as to enable the participation of the faithful. The General Audience on Wednesday 11 March will be held in the same manner.”

The press office said that the decision was “necessary in order to avoid the risk of the spread of COVID-19 due to the gathering of people during security controls for access to the square, as requested by the Italian authorities.”

The Vatican also announced on Saturday that, at the direction of the Health and Hygiene Directorate of the Vatican City State, lay guests will not be able to attend the pope’s daily Mass in the Domus Santa Marta, which he will say in private until March 15 at least.

The announcement follows the first confirmed case of coronavirus in Vatican City on Thursday.

All outpatient services in Vatican City State’s Health and Hygiene Department were suspended on Friday to allow for the sanitation of Vatican facilities after one patient tested positive the previous day.

“The Health and Hygiene Department is taking steps to inform the competent Italian authorities and in the meantime the planned health protocols have been launched,” Holy See Press Office Director Matteo Bruni told journalists March 6.

With 148 coronavirus-related deaths in less than two weeks — 96 of which occurred in three days —  Italy has had the most Covid-19 mortalities outside of China.

Most of the 3,858 people who have contracted Covid-19 in Italy have been in the northern regions of the country. The Italian Ministry of Health reported 44 confirmed cases in Rome’s Lazio region on the evening of March 5.

The Italian government has closed all schools and universities March 5-15 in response to the outbreak.

After the pope canceled several appearances last week, the Vatican issued a statement March 3 that the pope had “a common cold,” and that he did not have “symptoms caused by other diseases.” According to an Italian newspaper, Pope Francis was reportedly tested for the novel coronavirus, Covid-19, with negative results.

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