Pope Francis conducts Holy Week ceremonies from behind closed doors

Pope Francis has begun the first of several Holy Week ceremonies that will be held behind closed doors this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Normally, tens of thousands of Romans and pilgrims, clutching olive branches, would have flocked to an outdoor Mass led by the pontiff.

Instead, Francis was leading the ceremony inside the shelter of St Peter’s Basilica, which seemed even more cavernous than usual because it was so empty.

Pope Francis has begun the first of several Holy Week ceremonies that will be held behind closed doors this year because of the coronavirus pandemic

Normally, tens of thousands of Romans and pilgrims, clutching olive branches, would have flocked to an outdoor Mass led by the pontiff

Normally, tens of thousands of Romans and pilgrims, clutching olive branches, would have flocked to an outdoor Mass led by the pontiff

Besides his aides, a few invited prelates, nuns and laypeople were present, sitting solo in the first pews and staggered, so they could stay a couple of metres apart to reduce risk of contagion.

Wearing red robes and appearing pensive, Francis blessed braided palms held by the others, then held one himself.

The Vatican has said there are seven cases of Covid-19 among residents or employees of the tiny independent city state.

The socially distanced ceremonies come as it was revealed that Italy’s death toll may be far higher than reported ‘because the country cannot spare resources to test every dead body’.

Instead, Francis was leading the ceremony inside the shelter of St Peter's Basilica, which seemed even more cavernous than usual because it was so empty

Instead, Francis was leading the ceremony inside the shelter of St Peter’s Basilica, which seemed even more cavernous than usual because it was so empty

Besides his aides, a few invited prelates, nuns and laypeople were present, sitting solo in the first pews and staggered, so they could stay a couple of metres apart to reduce risk of contagion

Besides his aides, a few invited prelates, nuns and laypeople were present, sitting solo in the first pews and staggered, so they could stay a couple of metres apart to reduce risk of contagion

Italy first emerged as the European epicentre of the virus before rocketing to become the country with the most deaths from infection globally. 

The country’s death toll currently stands at 15,362, dwarfing the 3,318 recorded in China, where the outbreak began.

A nursing home in Coccaglio, close to Milan, reported that 24 residents died during March, none of whom were tested for the coronavirus, the Wall Street Journal reported, claiming the same situation was true in another care facility in a nearby town called Lodi. 

The Vatican has said there are seven cases of Covid-19 among residents or employees of the tiny independent city state

The Vatican has said there are seven cases of Covid-19 among residents or employees of the tiny independent city state

Italy first emerged as the European epicentre of the virus before rocketing to become the country with the most deaths from infection globally

Italy first emerged as the European epicentre of the virus before rocketing to become the country with the most deaths from infection globally 

The publication analysed deaths in Lombardy, one of the areas hardest-hit by the disease, and found they are not isolated. Many citizens who die from COVID-19 do not make it to hospital to be tested, the WSJ reported. 

This means the human toll from the virus is likely to be much more devastating than originally thought. 

Older people in hard-to-reach locations and those unable to access treatment due to the health-care crisis are particularly at risk to becoming an uncounted victim of the virus.  

‘There are many more dead than are officially declared. 

‘But this is not a j’accuse [an accusation]. People died and they were never tested because time and resources are limited,’ Eugenio Fossati, deputy mayor of Coccaglio, told the WSJ of deaths caused by the virus. 

According to interviews with local officials, doctors and funeral-service providers, the people most in contact with the dead, the analysis predicts that around two of the main virus hotspots in the country, Bergamo and Brescia, the death toll is at least double what has been recorded since February.      

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk

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