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Coronavirus infects four at historic Ukraine monastery

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Kiev (AFP)

The coronavirus pandemic has hit a major Orthodox monastery in central Kiev where four cases have been confirmed, the city mayor said Monday.

The outbreak comes after the monastery's father-superior urged believers to continue going to church and to "hug each other."

"There are four cases of the illness at the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra monastery," Mayor Vitaliy Klitschko said at a daily online briefing.

The picturesque monastery on the banks of the Dnipro river is Ukraine's most important Orthodox shrine, loyal to the Moscow-based Church rather than Ukraine's new independent Church.

More than 200 monks live in the monastery, founded in the 11th century, but the mayor did not make clear who exactly had been infected or what their state of health was.

In mid-March, when the Ukrainian authorities called on churches to hold services online to shield parishioners,

But Metropolitan Pavel, the father-superior of the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra monastery, urged believers to "hurry to church and hug each other".

"The worst epidemic is of sin," the Metropolitan said in a video address on the monastery's YouTube channel.

"Do not be afraid of anything," he added.

Archbishop Kliment Vecherya, a spokesman for the Russian-aligned Ukrainian church, told AFP that the monastery is now under quarantine and disinfection is being carried out.

All services are being held behind closed doors without parishioners but streamed online, he said.

All four of those infected are being treated in hospital, Ukrainian journalist Sonya Koshkina wrote on Facebook.

Ukraine has closed schools, universities and public spaces to stem the spread of COVID-19.

The post-Soviet state has also banned events involving more than 10 people and closed metro systems in three cities.

Ukraine has confirmed 1,319 cases of COVID-19 and 38 deaths, according to official statistics.

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