Catholic churches ordered to close across Rome due to coronavirus

Catholic churches in Rome were ordered to close on Thursday to help limit the spread of coronavirus that has killed over 1,000 people across Italy.

More than 900 historic churches throughout the city will stay closed until Italy's required ban on public gatherings expires on April 3, according to Cardinal Angelo De Donatis, Pope Francis' vicar for the city's archdiocese.

“We are living in a very serious health situation each one of us is asked to have the utmost attention, because any imprudence in observing health measures could harm other people,” De Donatis said.

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Police officers wearing masks patrol an empty St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Wednesday, March 11, 2020. Pope Francis held his weekly general audience in the privacy of his library as the Vatican implemented Italy’s drastic coronavirus lockdown measures, barring the general public from St. Peter’s Square and taking precautions to limit the spread of infections in the tiny city state. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

Police officers wearing masks patrol an empty St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Wednesday, March 11, 2020. Pope Francis held his weekly general audience in the privacy of his library as the Vatican implemented Italy’s drastic coronavirus lockdown measures, barring the general public from St. Peter’s Square and taking precautions to limit the spread of infections in the tiny city state. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

Masses had previously been canceled because of the deadly outbreak. The unprecedented decree now forgoes the obligation of Catholics in the archdiocese to attend Mass on Sundays over the next three weeks, according to Reuters.

The Vatican has already shut down St Peter's Square and St Peter's Basilica while allowing only a small number of oratories in convents and monasteries to remain open.

Donatis added that "access to religious buildings of any kind open to the public, is forbidden to all the faithful," according to Crux Now.

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The move follows the decision by Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on Wednesday night to close nearly all stores except for pharmacies and food markets as part of Italy's nationwide lockdown involving the country's 60 million people.

Pope Francis canceled his two public appearances this week and conducted his most recent Sunday blessing from inside the Vatican -- instead of his balcony, according to the news organization.

He tested negative for the coronavirus last week after falling ill with a cough, chills and other flu-like symptoms, the Il Messaggero newspaper reported.

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The coronavirus death toll in Italy rose by 189 over the past 24 hours, an increase of 23 percent, the country's Civil Protection Agency said on Thursday. 1,016 have now died in the country.

The total number of confirmed cases in the country increased to 15,113.