In co-operation with Italian emergency measures, the Vatican has closed St Peter’s Square and Basilica to tourists starting from today, 10th March through to 3rd April.
The new measure, announced today, was the latest move by the Vatican to help stop the spread of the coronavirus by reducing access to places that attract large groups of people. On 8th March, the Vatican closed the Vatican Museums, the necropolis and other museums connected with the Vatican.
“In co-ordination with measures introduced by Italian authorities,” the Vatican said in a communique, “starting today, St Peter’s Square and Basilica will be closed to guided tours and tourists.”
Italian police were located as usual at the perimeter around the square that separates Vatican City State and Italian territory, as well as under the colonnade. But they were not allowing people to enter the square unless they could document it was for work reasons or other exceptions currently allowed by Italian law.
A small number of tourists could be seen taking selfies outside the square, and a group of tourists was looking for information about the Wednesday general audience. This week’s audience is not going to be a public event but will feature Pope Francis offering his catechesis broadcast online on Vatican media outlets.
The decision to close St Peter’s followed a major measure implemented by the Italian government on 9th March, discouraging people nationwide from all unessential travel and from leaving their homes unless it was for work, getting food, medicines or seeing a doctor.
Churches and places of worship in Italy are allowed to stay open, but they must guarantee people stay three feet apart and avoid congregating. All civil and religious ceremonies like weddings and funerals are not allowed until after 3rd April.
St Peter’s Square is Vatican territory, according to the Lateran Pacts agreement signed in 1929 between the Italian government and the Vatican. But since the Vatican is surrounded by Italian territory, the agreement allowed Italian police to provide security and law enforcement in the square and the entrance area of the Vatican Museums.
Picture: People look at an empty St Peter’s Square at the Vatican on 10th March 2020. The Vatican has closed St Peter’s Square and Basilica to tourists from 10th March through to 3rd April in co-operation with Italian emergency procedures aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus. (CNS photo/Paul Haring).