Pope Francis has tested negative for the new coronavirus, Italian media reported Tuesday, after canceling his participation at a week-long spiritual retreat in the Roman countryside because of a cold.
Italian newspaper Il Messaggero reported that the 83-year-old pontiff had been confirmed not to have the virus, according to the Reuters news agency. A Vatican spokesperson refused to comment on the report.
It was the first time in Francis’s seven-year papacy that he had missed the spiritual exercises that he initiated early in his pontificate to mark the start of each Lenten season. Such retreats are typical of Jesuits, an order to which he belongs.
The pope, who lost part of a lung to a respiratory illness as a young man, has canceled several official engagements this week as he battled an apparent cold.
His weekly appearance Sunday to pilgrims from a window high above St. Peter’s Square was the first time he has been seen publicly since Ash Wednesday, when he was seen coughing and blowing his nose during Mass.
Francis paused twice to cough Sunday while addressing the faithful. At the end, he asked for prayers for the spiritual retreat, adding “unfortunately a cold prevents me from participating this year. I will be following the meditation from here.”
The Vatican has described Francis’ condition as “a slight illness,” without giving other details. Francis’ illness, though, has come amid general alarm in Italy over the coronavirus outbreak, which has infected more than 2,000 people, mostly in northern Italy.
There have been just six cases reported in Lazio, where Rome is located, to date.