Take care in letting your guard down against COVID-19, Pope Francis advises

(Photo: REUTERS / MAX ROSSI)Pope Francis waves as he leads the Angelus prayer from the window of the Apostolic palace in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican March 9, 2014.

Pope Francis cautioned during a Sunday address in St. Peter's Square against people letting down their guard against the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.

"Be careful, don't cry victory, don't cry victory too soon," he said in an address to those gathered in St. Peter's Square,

The Pope spoke as different countries have begun to ease restrictions on public prayer services around the world to prevent the spread of the virus that has just under 7 million confirmed cases worldwide with 400,243 death recorded and 3.1 million recoveries according to Johns Hopkins University in the United States.

Places of worship in the United Kingdom will be allowed to open for private individual prayer under government plans to be announced next week, the BBC reported June 7.

In Nigeria on June 2, churches, mosques and hotels opened despite rising cases of COVID-19.

Worshippers must wear face masks, maintain physical distancing and properly wash or sanitize their hands before joining their congregation.

Italy and the Vatican opened a new phase in the virus crisis May 18, with churches resuming public Masses after a sharp confrontation between the Italian church and state over limits on worshipping in the era of COVID-19.

There had been accusation that the government had trampled on religious freedom, an issues that has also arisen in some churches in the United States.

Guards in hazmat suits took the temperature of the faithful entering St. Peter's Basilica, where Pope Francis celebrated an early morning Mass for a handful of people in a side chapel to commemorate the centenary of the birth of St. John Paul II.

Francis noted that the "small presence" at St. Peter's Square was a sign that "the acute phase" of the coronavirus pandemic is over in Italy which was at one time the country with the most number of cases and deaths.

The Pope also advised them to follow the rules carefully, "because they are rules that help us to prevent the virus from spreading.

As of June 7 Italy had nearly 235,000 confirmed cases with just over 165,000 recoveries but nearly 35,000 had died from the virus.

The Vatican said June 6 that the city state no longer had any active positive cases among employees, after a 12th person had tested positive in early May.

Francis noted in his Sunday address that some countries are still deeply affected by the coronavirus and continue to have many deaths, Catholic News Agency reported.

There is one country, he said, where on Friday "one person died per minute. Terrible!"

The pontiff appeared to be referencing Brazil, where on June 5, an editorial on the front page of the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper said COVID-19 is "killing a Brazilian per minute," after the country recorded 1,473 deaths in 24 hours.

According to the John Hopkins University COVID-19 dashboard, Brazil has the second-most cases of the coronavirus in the world after the 1.9 million cases in the United States with nearly 673,000 confirmed cases. Brazil is third in the world for deaths, with almost 36,000 recorded as of June 7.

"I wish to express my closeness to those populations, to the sick and their families, and to all those who care for them," Francis said.

When people broke into applause at the words, the pope warned that they should not declare "victory" too early, and everyone should continue to follow the health and safety regulations in place.

For the first time since the end of the pandemic lockdown on May 24, Pope Francis had recited the Sunday Angelus in front of people in St. Peter's Square.

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