While there is nothing to indicate that what is bedeviling the aged pontiff, who has been seen coughing and blowing his nose since last Wednesday, is anything more serious than a common cold, the pope is currently in Italy, a country that is battling the deadly coronavirus.
On Saturday, the Vatican announced that, due to a “slight disposition,” all of the 83-year-old pope’s scheduled activities planned for the day are now canceled until further notice. That means that planned audiences with an international bioethics organization and with members of the Legion of Christ religious order are canceled; the former event was to have concluded with a speech, which would have placed him in a room with several people.
This marks the first time Francis has canceled such a significant number of public appearances in the seven years of his papacy.
The pontiff will, however, continue to receive certain visitors in his private apartment at the Vatican’s Santa Marta hotel. For example, on Saturday, he hosted the head of the Vatican’s bishops’ office, his ambassadors to Lebanon and France, and a Ukrainian archbishop.
In addition, the Vatican notes that the pope has been well enough to attend Mass each day and then return to his home and work from there.
As Al-Jazeera reports, the virus has sickened over a thousand people in Italy and caused 29 deaths, the most in Europe. Elsewhere in Europe, a man has come down with the virus in Luxembourg; there are over 100 confirmed cases of the virus in France; and there are now 7 cases of the virus in The Netherlands.
In Northern Italy, schools and universities are closed for their second consecutive week.
The World Health Organization states that, worldwide, over 85,000 people have been sickened with the virus.
Pope Francis, who lost part of a lung to a respiratory illness as a young man, started coming down with a cough on the same day that he expressed support for people dealing with the deadly virus.
“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 at the time.
The pope’s future plans are currently still in place, including his annual Lenten season trip to a spiritual retreat in the Italian countryside with his colleagues.