POPE FRANCIS has gone against the advice of the Italian government by taking to the empty streets of Rome to offer prayers to those affected by coronavirus.
The pontiff, along with two security guards, left the sanctuary of the Vatican and visited two church in the Italian capital: The Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore and St Marcello Church.
In the latter, he prayed in front of a crucifix once used in a procession when the plague hit Rome in 1522.
According to a statement from the Vatican, Pope Francis prayed not only for an end to the pandemic but also for those already sick or otherwise affected by the virus.
He also prayed for health workers and those employed in pharmacies and food stores to stay open during Italy’s ongoing lockdown.
“With his prayer, the Holy Father pleaded for an end to the pandemic that has struck Italy and the world," the Vatican said.
"He also implored the healing of the many sick people, remembered the numerous victims of these past days, and asked that their families and friends might find consolation and comfort.
"His prayer intention was also extended to healthcare workers, doctors, nurses, and all those working in these days to guarantee the smooth functioning of society."
Pictures published online show the Pope talking a walk down the usually bustling Via del Corso, now completely empty save for the Pontiff’s entourage.
It comes as the total number of coronavirus cases in Italy soared to 24,747 with the number of deaths increasing from 368 to 1,809.
The Vatican has already confirmed that the Pope’s Holy Weeks and Easter services – the most import in the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar for the church’s 1.3 billion members- will be held without public participation.
It is not clear how these events will be scaled down but authorities are thought to be examining the possibility of hosting them indoors with small representative groups in attendance.