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Pope voices support for virus victims in livestream message

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Vatican City (AFP)

Pope Francis expressed solidarity Sunday with the victims of the novel coronavirus in his first livestreamed prayer and message from the Vatican.

"I am close through prayer with the people who suffer from the current coronavirus epidemic," the 83-year-old pope said in a message recorded at the Vatican library and aired live on a screen on Saint Peter's Square before a small crowd.

"I join my brother bishops in encouraging the faithful to live this difficult moment with the strength of faith, the certainty of hope and the fervour of charity."

The Vatican said on Saturday that the pontiff was breaking with centuries of tradition and reverting to the use of streaming technology for his traditional Angelus Prayer at the request of the Italian authorities.

The livestream was apparently designed to keep down the number of people who came out on Saint Peter's Square to watch the pope deliver his Sunday prayer and message from his traditional window at the Vatican.

Italy has borne the brunt in Europe of the COVID-19 disease now sweeping the world.

It has recorded 233 deaths and nearly 6,000 cases. The authorities took the unprecedented step Sunday of quarantining more than 15 million people -- a quarter of Italy's population -- living in northern regions around the cities of Venice and Milan.

The pope himself has been suffering from a cold for more than a week and has cut down on public appearances.

But he still appeared at his window facing Saint Peter's Square after recording his message and waved for a few moments to the crowd.

He said he felt unnaturally "caged" delivering his message from a library instead of his open window.

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