Coronavirus: At least 50 priests killed by coronavirus

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Father Giuseppe BerardelliImage source, Oratorio Casnigo

The deadly coronavirus sweeping across the world has killed at least 50 priests, officials say.

They include Father Giuseppe Berardelli, 72, who died early this month in Lovere, Bergamo - one of the worst-hit cities in Italy.

Reports on Tuesday that he had chosen to give his respirator to a younger coronavirus patient he did not know have been denied by close friends.

Italy is the world's worst affected country with 6,820 deaths so far.

It has been under prolonged lockdown as it tries to stop the spread of infections from the worst-hit northern region of Lombardy.

Coronavirus has been spreading rapidly across the globe, affecting more than 160 countries and claiming more than 16,000 lives.

There are more than 360,000 confirmed cases worldwide. Europe is now at the epicentre of the crisis and the US is facing a surge in cases.

Who was Fr Berardelli?

Giuseppe Berardelli, the main priest in the town of Casnigo, died last week in Lovere hospital, close to Bergamo.

Residents of Casnigo were reported to have applauded from their windows and balconies as the coffin was taken for burial. There was no funeral.

Italian media reports quoted by the BBC on Tuesday referred to medical sources saying he had given his respirator to a younger patient.

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However, friends of the late priest say they are not aware this was the case.

Giuseppe Foresti, who worked with him in the Casnigo diocese, said news that he had given the respirator away were "fake" - and that Berardelli had simply not been able to tolerate it because he had a pre-existing condition.

And the Catholic News Agency cites the secretary general of his diocese, Father Giulio Dellavite, as saying: "There was not a donated respirator."

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On Tuesday, Pope Francis led a prayer for the deceased doctors and priests, "thanking God for their heroic example in serving those who were sick".

What is the situation in Italy?

Italy shut down most businesses and banned public gatherings nationwide on 12 March as it tried to halt the spread of the virus.

Bars, restaurants and most shops have closed, as have schools and universities.

The lockdown has been extended, and Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has said it has helped prevent "the collapse of the system".

Image caption,
Priests have been celebrating funeral services without relatives in Italy

There has been a slight slowdown in the rate of infection for a third day in a row. But at more than 600 deaths a day, it is far from bringing the pandemic under control.

Italy has 69,176 people with Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus.

But the number infected could be far higher. Angelo Borrelli, Italy's civil protection chief, told newspaper La Repubblica on Tuesday it was "credible" to estimate the numbers are 10 times higher in reality.

"In the next few hours… we will see if the growth curve is really flattening," he told the paper.

What is the situation worldwide?

The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that the coronavirus disease pandemic is "accelerating", with more than 300,000 cases now confirmed.

It took 67 days from the first reported of Covid-19 to reach 100,000 cases, 11 days for the second 100,000, and just four days for the third 100,000.

But WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said it was still possible to "change the trajectory".

He urged countries to adopt rigorous testing and contact-tracing strategies.

In the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Monday night that, with immediate effect, "people will only be allowed to leave their home...for very limited purposes". The number of people who have died in the UK rose to 335 on Monday.