Two monks die as virus infects 93 at Kiev monastery
Kiev-Perchersk Lavra monastery (Sergei SUPINSKY AFP)

Two monks have died and more than 90 people have been infected in a mass coronavirus outbreak at an Orthodox monastery in Kiev, officials said Monday.

A total of 93 cases have been confirmed at the historic Kiev-Pechersk Lavra monastery, 63 of them over the past day, Kiev Mayor Vitaliy Klitschko said.

The cluster of infections makes up almost a fifth of all confirmed cases in the Ukrainian capital.

The virus has torn through the picturesque monastery on the banks of the Dnipro river in central Kiev that has more than 250 inhabitants.

Founded in the 11th century, it is the country's most important Orthodox shrine and is overseen by the Moscow-aligned Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

Archbishop Kliment Vecherya, a Church spokesman, told AFP that two monks have died from COVID-19.

The first monk who died tested negative for the coronavirus but ended up in hospital with severe pneumonia and the doctors confirmed coronavirus infection "based on his symptoms", the archbishop said.

The second monk died after being hospitalised and testing positive for the virus.

Klitschko said that a team of doctors with portable X-ray machines and virus tests would visit the monastery to "get a true picture" of the outbreak.

An AFP correspondent saw several ambulances entering the monastery on Monday.

The monastery is under quarantine and all services are held behind closed doors and streamed online.

Quarantine measures will now become even "more thorough" and "additional disinfection" will be carried out, Archbishop Kliment Vecherya said.

Metropolitan Pavel, the father-superior of the monastery, in March urged believers to "hurry to church and hug each other" despite government advice to hold church services online over virus fears.

He later changed his stance, calling the novel coronavirus "the plague of the 21st century".

Klitscho has banned public celebrations for Orthodox Easter, which falls on April 19, saying they could "sharply worsen" the spread of the virus and lead to "hundreds of new patients."

Ukraine has confirmed 3,102 cases of COVID-19 including 93 deaths. Kiev has had 495 cases.