The Vatican said on Thursday it was considering changes to Pope Francis’s schedule “to avoid the dissemination” of the new coronavirus that has killed 148 people and infected hundreds in Italy.
Official spokesman Matteo Bruni said the measures will cover “the activities of (the pope), the Holy See and the Vatican City state in the coming days”.
The Vatican did not say whether the outgoing 83-year-old pope would be temporarily kept away from crowds or whether he would stop shaking hands with visitors.
Pope Francis has not been seen in public since announcing during his traditional Sunday prayer before crowds on Saint Peter’s Square that he was skipping an annual spiritual refuge south of Rome because of a cold.
He had been seen coughing and sniffing since last Wednesday.
The pontiff has cut down his schedule and has spent most of his time at his Saint Martha’s guest house in the Vatican.
The Argentine-born pope has enjoyed a life of good health despite losing part of a lung as a young man and suffered from sciatica — a nerve condition that causes pain in his hip.
Yet he rarely cancels appointments and normally takes extra time to mingle with supporters and the faithful.