Residents of Lombardy, the northern Italian region that has been hit hardest by the coronavirus, are now required to wear protective masks when leaving the house, according to an order signed on Saturday by the authorities.
The order lasts through April 13 and is the latest effort by Italian officials to curb the spread of the virus, which has killed more than 15,000 people in the country.
Previously, only essential workers and those who deliver food were required to wear masks, but the new requirement emerged after officials observed a growing number of residents walking and shopping outside in defiance of the nation’s lockdown, which remains in effect for at least two more weeks.
Meanwhile, Pope Francis marked Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on Sunday in a service surrounded by only a few aides and a handful of clergy, after the annual public ceremony in St. Peter’s Square was scrapped as Italy battles one of the world’s worst outbreaks of the coronavirus.
The traditional event, which kicks off Holy Week leading up to Easter next Sunday, usually takes place outside in St. Peter’s Square and draws some tens of thousands of local Catholics, pilgrims and tourists waving olive and palm tree branches.
Typically, the ceremony includes a procession of cardinals, priests and the faithful waving the fronds, but this year just a short procession was included, passing a few potted olive trees, Reuters reported.
In the solitary mass, which was live-streamed around the world, the pope urged the faithful to turn to God “in the tragedy of a pandemic, in the face of the many false securities that have now crumbled, in the face of so many hopes betrayed, in the sense of abandonment that weighs upon our hearts.”
Seven cases of covid-19 — the illness caused by the coronavirus — have been reported among residents or employees of the Vatican, which is an independent city-state in the Italian capital.
The pope and his aides have all tested negative for the virus, according to news reports.
The death toll from the COVID-19 epidemic in Italy rose by 525 to 15,887, the lowest daily death toll in more than two weeks, while the number of patients in intensive care fell for the second day running, the Civil Protection department said on Sunday.