The faithful listen to Pope Francis' speech as he delivers his Sunday Angelus prayer from his studio window overlooking St. Peter's Square at the Vatican in Rome on March 1. (Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP)
Pope Francis has tested negative for coronavirus after illness forced him to cancel a series of engagements and a week-long stay at a spiritual retreat, an Italian newspaper has reported.
The 83-year-old pontiff was tested after falling ill on Ash Wednesday with symptoms of a cold including a cough, fever, chills and sore throat.
He was given a swab test as a precaution but the results have come back negative, according to a report by Il Messaggero on March 3.
Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni declined to confirm or deny the report but stressed that the pope had been diagnosed with a cold and that it was “running its course without symptoms linked to other pathologies.”
Concern about the pope’s health grew when he was seen coughing and sneezing while greeting the public in Rome on Ash Wednesday.
He was forced to cancel all public engagements until he appeared in St. Peter’s Square for his Sunday Angelus prayer on March 1.
Italy is the worst-affected European country with 2,502 confirmed Covid-19 cases and 79 deaths, according to the latest figures. Globally, 3,198 people have died from 93,136 confirmed cases, mostly in mainland China.
Pope Francis, who lost part of a lung to a respiratory illness as a young man in Argentina, paused twice to cough on March 1 while addressing the faithful.
Vatican City has yet to report its first case of coronavirus but it was revealed on March 3 that a member of staff has been placed in quarantine over fears they could have contracted the disease.
The worker had come into contact with a French priest who has since been placed in isolation in a Paris hospital.
The Vatican is distributing masks and gloves among staff who have contact with the public. Staff have been told to wash their hands thoroughly and avoid people with symptoms, while visitors are being advised to avoid forming dense crowds and to shield their faces when they cough or sneeze.