Saint Peter's Square, basilica closed to tourists until April 3

Faithfuls gather on Saint Peter's Square waiting to enter the St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City, on March 8, 2020. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

VATICAN CITY (AFP) - The Vatican's Saint Peter's Square and its main basilica were closed to tourists on Tuesday (March 10) as part of a broader clampdown aimed at curbing the coronavirus outbreak.

The Holy See said the measures will remain in place until April 3 "in order to halt the spread of the coronavirus".

Italy's new nationwide restrictions on public gatherings and movement between cities are also meant to stay in place for the coming four weeks.

The Vatican has so far officially confirmed one case of the Covid-19 disease caused by the new virus that has killed 463 people in surrounding Italy in just over two weeks.

It was also waiting for the results of a second person who may have been in contact with someone infected by the virus.

Pope Francis himself was forced to break with centuries of tradition and deliver his Sunday Angelus Prayer via livestream instead of out of his Vatican window to limit crowds on Saint Peter's Square.

Saint Peter's stunning basilica is one of the world's most popular tourist attractions. Its dome soars over Rome and is visible across the Italian capital.

It is filled with frescos and statues by great Renaissance masters such as Michelangelo.

The 83-old-pontiff is himself still recovering from a cold he developed about two weeks ago.

The Argentine-born pope has enjoyed a life of good health and follows a rigorous schedule despite having a part of a lung removed when he was young.

His unusual absence during the coronavirus scare prompted immediate speculation that he had contracted Covid-19.

A newspaper reported last week that the pope had been tested for the virus but was not infected.

The Vatican neither confirmed nor denied the report.

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