Pope Francis to stream video of Sunday prayer to screens in Saint Peter’s Square
Pope Francis AFP

Pope Francis's Angelus prayer on Sunday will be livestreamed in a break with centuries-old tradition, the Vatican announced as the number of coronavirus deaths in Italy soared past 200.


Worldwide, the number of cases now exceeds 100,000 and the overall death toll is more than 3,500 across 95 nations and territories.

The World Health Organization called the spread "deeply concerning" as several countries reported their first cases of the COVID-19 disease.

In Rome, the Angelus prayers -- normally delivered by the 83-year-old pontiff from his window -- will "be broadcast via livestream by Vatican News and on screens in Saint Peter's Square," the Vatican said.

Italy is the worst-hit European country and its toll shot up Saturday by a single-day record of 1,247 cases to 5,883, along with 233 deaths.

Retired doctors are being recruited to bolster the healthcare system with 20,000 more staff, but civil protection officials say the northern Lombardy region is "experiencing difficulties with the (number of) beds available in hospitals".

The US meanwhile was battling to contain an outbreak on a cruise ship where 21 people have tested positive.

The Grand Princess has been stranded off San Francisco since Wednesday -- when it was supposed to dock -- after two people who had been on the ship during its previous voyage contracted the virus. One later died.

US Vice President Mike Pence said the ship would be brought to a non-commercial dock this weekend and all 3,533 passengers and crew will be tested.

The Princess Cruises group also operates the coronavirus-stricken ship held off Japan last month on which more than 700 people tested positive.

In China, where the outbreak began in December, the virus wreaked havoc on the world's second-largest economy, shutting down businesses and disrupting global supply chains.

The negative impact was shown in official data Saturday, with Chinese exports plunging 17.2 percent in the first two months of the year.

Global spread

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has urged "that all countries make containment their highest priority".

Colombia, Costa Rica, Malta and the Maldives have also announced their first cases.

The number of infections in South Korea passed 7,000 on Saturday -- the highest in the world outside China.

Iran reported 21 new deaths from the novel coronavirus and 1,076 fresh cases in the past 24 hours, bringing the overall tolls there to 145 dead and 5,823 infected.

The number of cases recorded in France rose to 716 with 16 deaths.

President Emmanuel Macron is to meet Sunday with health advisors while two national deputies and a worker at the National Assembly have been confirmed as having contracted the virus.

In China meanwhile, the number of new cases reported Saturday nationwide was the lowest in weeks.

The government has hinted it may soon lift the quarantine imposed on Hubei province -- the locked-down epicentre where some 56 million people have been effectively housebound since late January.

For the second consecutive day, there were no new cases reported in Hubei outside Wuhan, the province's capital.

But the number of infections beyond the epicentre rose for the third straight day, fuelling fears about cases being brought into the country from overseas.

Cancellations

The epidemic has hit international business, tourism, and sports events, with almost 300 million students sent home worldwide as schools and universities close.

The South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas and the Ultra electronic dance festival in Miami were among the latest events to be cancelled.

In India, the world's biggest film industry called off its equivalent of the Oscars that had been set for the end of the month.

Dozens of sports events have been cancelled, including the Scotland-France rugby match scheduled for Saturday in Glasgow.

And organisers of the Barcelona marathon on Saturday postponed the event, which had been scheduled for March 15, until October 25.

The holy city of Bethlehem was in lockdown after the first Palestinian cases of the deadly coronavirus were discovered there Friday.

But Saudi Arabia reopened the area around the sacred Kaaba in Mecca's Grand Mosque, Islam's holiest site, after suspending the year-long umra pilgrimage during which worshippers circle the Kaaba seven times.

However, access to the Kaaba is blocked and the Grand Mosque is being sterilised.

With the elderly among the most at-risk groups, French President Macron urged people to limit visits to the old and infirm as much as possible to avoid further spread.