March 28, 2020 / 5:53 PM / 2 months ago

Pope and closest aides do not have coronavirus: Vatican

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The Vatican said on Saturday that tests carried out in the building where Pope Francis lives after one resident tested positive for coronavirus showed that the pontiff and his closest aides do not have the disease.

FILE PHOTO: Pope Francis sits at St. Peter's Basilica during an extraordinary "Urbi et Orbi" (to the city and the world) blessing - normally given only at Christmas and Easter -, as a response to the global coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, at the Vatican, March 27, 2020. REUTERS/Yara Nardi/Pool

It was the first pronouncement about the 83-year-old pope and his coronavirus status since the current crisis began in Italy, where more than 10,000 people have died.

Tests were done on 170 people in the Vatican and six showed positive, including one of the several dozen permanent residents of the Santa Marta guesthouse on the Vatican grounds, Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said in a statement.

“I can confirm that neither the Holy Father nor his closest aides are among these,” he said.

The person who tested positive works in the Secretariat of State and is in a Rome hospital.

Tests showed one other person who had been in contact with the priest also came up positive but that person did not live in the papal residence.

The modern residence, which has 130 rooms and suites and a staff of about 30 people, is home to dozens of priests who work in key Vatican departments.

Bruni said the entire residence, which is run like a hotel but has not been accepting temporary guests for the past few weeks, was sanitized.

Francis appears to be in generally good health but part of one of his lungs was removed following an illness when he was a young man.

One source who enters the residence regularly said precautions have been taken such as encouraging social distancing and making hand sanitizers available.

Since March 6, the Vatican has issued at least five notices or decrees that mirror steps taken in Italy, the hardest hit country in Europe, with more than 10,000 deaths as of Saturday.

They include recommendations to communicate by phone even with people in the same office, alternating shifts and encouraging as much work from home as possible.

Francis has canceled public appearances and is conducting his general audiences via television and the internet. But he still receives about five Vatican officials a day, according to his official calendar.

Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Giles Elgood

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