Pope Francis skips retreat, spotted coughing, sneezing amid coronavirus scare

Pope Francis cancelled his participation in a spiritual retreat with senior Vatican officials as he was suffering from a cold.

According to news agencies, this is the first time Pope Francis has faced a significant health issue since his election in 2013. This is also the first time Pope Francis is missing the retreat, which he had initiated at the start of his pontificate to mark the start of Lent.

The Pope had already cancelled his participation in two events in the past week on account of having a cold. On Ash Wednesday last week, Pope Francis was seen coughing and blowing his nose during mass. On Sunday, when he appeared at St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis interrupted his speech twice in order to cough. He sought prayers for the Vatican retreat, adding “unfortunately a cold prevents me from participating this year. I will be following the meditation from here.”

Pope Francis however continued to work from his residence in the Vatican, holding meetings in private with ambassadors and bishops. The Vatican described Pope Francis’s condition as a “slight illness”.

The Pope’s illness comes amid panic in Italy over the spread of the novel coronavirus. Italy reported a 50 per cent rise in cases of coronavirus on Sunday, with number of confirmed cases soaring from 1,128 to 1,694. As many as 34 people have died of coronavirus in Italy.

Over 100,000 people are supposedly under lockdown in 11 towns.