Rome’s Vatican closes all of Italy’s catacombs to prevent coronavirus spread

Rome's Vatican has closed all of Italy's ancient catacombs normally open to the public because of the country's coronavirus outbreak.

Official Monsignor Pasquale Iacobone said the decision was taken to protect guides who work in the restricted underground spaces as well as visitors.

Iacobone, secretary of the Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology, told Reuters the large grouping of visitors, small narrow spaces and humid conditions in the underground catacombs made for ideal conditions for the quick travelling virus to spread.

Italy is Europe's worst-hit country, with 17 deaths from the virus and 650 infections nationwide so far.

The outbreak is focused on a small cluster of towns in the northern Lombardy and Veneto regions.

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The catacombs are underground burial sites dating back to the second century.

The most famous and most visited are in Rome and consist of many kilometres of underground tunnels cut out of soft tufo stone.

The Vatican owns and administers them and numerous other Christian catacombs across Italy.

About a dozen have been explored and opened to the public, including in Sicily, Tuscany and Sardinia.

"We hope to be able to reopen them as soon as possible but we really had no choice," Iacobone said.

Other countries across Europe are cancelling sporting events, carnivals and trade conventions in a desperate attempt to contain the rapid spread of Covid-19.

There is new evidence of transmission in Spain, Germany and France as the stock market drops dramatically in response to the crisis.

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There have been confirmed coronavirus cases in 47 countries around the world, and more than 2,800 people have died.

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