Pope coughs his way through speech amid coronavirus outbreak

Pope Francis has pulled out of a week-long spiritual retreat for the first time in his seven-year papacy because he has been struck down with an illness.

The 83-year-old pontiff spluttered and coughed his way through a speech addressing pilgrims on Sunday and had to pause twice to compose himself.

He told thousands who gathered for his weekly appearance from a window high above St Peter’s Square, in the Vatican City, that he would not be able to attend due to a cold.

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Francis asked for prayers for the Lenten retreat, adding: ‘Unfortunately, a cold prevents me from participating this year… I will be following the meditation from here’.

The announcement comes as Italy battles the worst coronavirus outbreak in Europe, with dozens of towns in the north of the country being placed into quarantine.

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