Netherlands cuts pope flower display over coronavirus

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The Hague (AFP)

The Netherlands will this year break a long tradition of supplying the flowers for the pope's Easter address because of the coronavirus outbreak, if it goes ahead at all, organisers said Wednesday.

For the past 35 years, Saint Peter's Square in the Vatican has been decked out with tulips, daffodils, roses or orchids donated by the Netherlands, one of the world's biggest hubs for cut flowers.

"The developments around coronavirus in Italy are very serious. In consultation with all concerned parties, it has been decided to cancel the floral decorations for Saint Peter's Square this year," Paul Deckers, the florist in charge of the project, said on Twitter.

Last year, the Easter Sunday address by Pope Francis drew some 70,000 people to the Vatican, which is in the centre of the Italian capital Rome.

However, Italy is now under national lockdown after becoming the epicentre of the European virus outbreak with 631 deaths so far.

"It's the first time we haven't done it," Deckers told NOS public radio, adding that it was possible the address could be cancelled altogether.