Pope Francis has advised Italians to try to make the most of the coronavirus crisis by re-discovering the joy of family, as the country struggles to cope with the most acute outbreak of the virus outside China.
"During these difficult days we can find small, concrete gestures expressing closeness and concreteness towards the people closest to us, a caress for our grandparents, a kiss for our children, for the people we love," Pope Francis told Italy's La Repubblica newspaper in an interview published Wednesday.
"These are important, decisive gestures. If we live these days like this, they won't be wasted."
The Pope told the newspaper that he had asked God to stop the epidemic in Italy, which has taken the lives of 2,503 in Italy, as of Tuesday, up 345 from the previous day.
Italy's Civil Protection Agency and Johns Hopkins University, which is keeping a tally of the figures, said there are 31,056 confirmed cases of the virus in the country (the figure includes the dead and those that have recovered ). As with all outbreaks, the true number of infections could be much higher.
Pope Francis said society needed to rediscover "small gestures of attention we can offer those close to us." It's a message that has come to the fore in Italy where the entire country remains on lockdown to try to stem the spread of the virus.
As citizens are discouraged from leaving their homes and unable to travel, many have been looking for new ways of bolstering their spirits, such as singing from their balconies — the perfect place for social distancing while allowing life to continue to some extent.
Shows of solidarity and appreciation for hospital workers have been seen in Italy, with citizens taking to their balconies to applaud those in frontline services. Italy's health service remains under severe strain; China, where the outbreak started, is sending medical experts, masks and health equipment to the country.
Lombardy, the wealthy northern region of Italy which remains worse-hit by the virus, almost ran out of intensive care beds for coronavirus patients Monday, the region's welfare councilor Giulio Gallera said Tuesday, ANSA news agency reported. A hospital in the Lombardy city of Bergamo on Tuesday said it had run out space in intensive care, the news agency said.
Italy is the worst hit country outside China, and is followed by Iran, Spain and Germany. The European Union has closed its external borders in a bid to stop the spread of the virus.