Coronavirus: Catholic churches in Rome ordered closed as death toll passes 1,000

A nun walks next to an empty St Peter's Square, on the third day of an unprecedented lockdown across of all Italy imposed to slow the outbreak of coronavirus. PHOTO: REUTERS

ROME (REUTERS) - The Vatican on Thursday (March 12) took the unprecedented step of closing all Catholic churches across Rome to stem the spread of a coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 1,000 people across Italy.

The papal vicar for Rome said the churches would reopen when a broader Italian government lockdown on public gatherings expires on April 3.

"The faithful are consequently exempt from their obligation to fulfil the festive precept," a statement from Cardinal Angelo De Donatis said.

The Vatican statement said access to "churches of the Diocese of Rome open to the public - and more generally to religious buildings of any kind open to the public - is forbidden to all the faithful".

The statement added that monasteries would remain open to "communities that habitually use them as residents".

"This provision is for the common good," Cardinal De Donatis wrote.

Italian officials earlier announced that the death toll in the country from Covid-19 had jumped in the previous 24 hours by 189 to 1,016, a rise of 23 per cent.

The Civil Protection Agency said the total number of cases in Italy, the European country hardest hit by the virus, rose to 15,113 from a previous 12,462, an increase of 21.7 per cent.

That marked the biggest daily rise in absolute terms since the contagion first came to light on Feb 21.

The agency said that, of those originally infected, 1,258 had fully recovered, compared to 1,045 the day before.

Some 1,153 people were in intensive care, against a previous 1,028.

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