Great Britain

Pope Francis, 83, cancels event as he’s taken ill amid Italy coronavirus crisis

HEALTH FEARS

POPE Francis has cancelled a mass today as he was struck down with illness.

The 83-year-year-old pontiff was due to worship with clergy at St John Lateran basilica on the other side of Rome but stayed at home in the Vatican.

Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said Francis had a "slight indisposition" and preferred to stay in the Santa Marta guesthouse where he lives.

He added: "All other commitments will go ahead."

It is not clear what his symptoms are, but he was seen blowing his nose and covering his mouth as he coughed during an Ash Wednesday service in St Peter's yesterday.

Earlier yesterday Francis appeared in good spirits as he greeted a large crowd at a general audience in St Peter's Square.

Many of the faithful wore face masks, but others did not as they embraced the Holy Father.

Francis made a point to shake hands with the faithful in the front row and kissed a baby during his popemobile spin through the square.

He also greeted visiting bishops, but they appeared to refrain from kissing his ring or embracing him as they normally would.

It comes as Italy is reeling from a coronavirus outbreak, although there is no suggestion the Pope has caught it.

The death toll from coronavirus rose to 14 today with 527 cases.

Rome has had three known patients, all of them since recovered.

Some Ash Wednesday services were cancelled yesterday across northern Italy, the centre of the outbreak.

The Argentine pope has generally enjoyed good health.

But he lost part of one lung after suffering TB as a young man in Buenos Aires, and suffers from sciatica, which makes walking difficult.