February 28 ------ The 83-year-old pontiff "preferred to stay inside the Santa Marta," the Vatican hotel he lives in, "because of a slight disposition", said spokesman Matteo Bruni. "All other commitments will go ahead regularly". The cancellation came a day after the Pope was seen touching masked members of a crowd at St Peter's Square on Ash Wednesday. Some Lent Ash Wednesday services were cancelled or limited in areas of northern Italy hit by the spread of coronavirus. In Rome, there have been three cases, and all three have been cured.
Francis coughed and spoke with a slightly hoarse voice at public appearances throughout the day. But there is no suggestion the Pope has caught the COVID-19 coronavirus, and the Vatican has not disclosed the nature of his sickness. Francis is known to have underlying health conditions, including having part of a lung removed when he was in his early 20s due to tuberculosis. He also receives physiotherapy for leg pain due to sciatica, which causes occasional difficulty climbing steps.
But he is in generally good health and rarely cancels events, having taken four international trips each year since he became head of the Catholic Church in 2013. The Vatican released a picture of the pope meeting a Cardinal and an international environmental group on Thursday morning, in a building mere steps from his home. The pope was due to go to the Basilica of St John's in Lateran that morning for a Lenten service with Roman priests. Italy has been struck with Europe's largest coronavirus outbreak, with more than 400 cases and 12 deaths recorded in the country.