VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis has blamed “this girl known as COVID” for forcing him to maintain his distance once more from the trustworthy throughout his normal viewers, which was far smaller than regular amid hovering coronavirus infections in Italy.

Francis once more eschewed a protecting masks Wednesday even when he greeted a couple of maskless clergymen on the finish of his viewers. Whereas the prelates wore masks all through the hour-long viewers, they took them off once they lined as much as shake Francis’ hand and converse briefly with him one-on-one.

A Vatican official who’s a key member of Francis’ COVID-19 response fee, the Rev. Augusto Zampini, acknowledged Tuesday that at age 83 and with a part of his lung eliminated after an sickness in his youth, Francis could be at excessive threat for issues if he had been to change into contaminated.

Zampini mentioned he hoped Francis would don a masks at the least when he greeted individuals through the normal viewers. “We’re engaged on that,” he mentioned.

Francis has solely been seen sporting a masks in public twice: On Sept. 9 as he entered and exited his normal viewers, and final week throughout a two-hour interfaith prayer service in downtown Rome.

Whereas Francis’ lung situation might clarify his reluctance to put on a masks, there was no remark from the Vatican about why protocol officers permit different individuals to get near him with out donning face safety. Individuals who have had personal conferences with him not too long ago mentioned no masks had been worn and no proof of current damaging virus exams required. Vatican laws require masks indoors and out when social distancing can’t be assured.

Firstly of the viewers, Francis once more apologized that he would not descend into the group to greet well-wishers as a result of he mentioned doing so would create a crowd round him.

“And this goes in opposition to the precautions we’d like earlier than this girl known as COVID, who does us a lot hurt,” Francis mentioned from the stage of the Vatican auditorium. “For that reason, please forgive me that I don’t go all the way down to greet you. I greet you from right here and I hold you in my coronary heart, and please hold me in your coronary heart and pray for me.”

Italy, the primary nation within the West to be slammed by the pandemic, has seen a pointy rebound in infections in current weeks that prompted the federal government to shut eating places and bars at evening and shutter theaters, gyms and swimming pools. Public well being officers are urging individuals to remain residence as a lot as attainable.

Francis’ viewers — which in pre-pandemic instances would draw 1000’s of individuals every week to St. Peter’s Sq. or the auditorium — featured just a few hundred individuals Wednesday.