Eleven members of the Swiss Guard, which protects the pope, have contracted coronavirus, adding to fears over the pontiff’s health.
On Monday, four men became the first members of the Guard to test positive and a further seven cases were announced today.
The Vatican is reportedly now trying to find out who the infected guards might have had contact with.
The guards stand watch outside the Vatican and tend to accompany the pope to official events.
Pope Francis, 83, is particularly vulnerable to Covid-93 because of his age, weight and having lost part of one lung during a childhood illness. He is frequently monitored for the virus.
Pope Francis (left) is seen at a ceremony for new recruits to the Swiss Guard in the Vatican on October 2
The guards, pictured here standing to attention on October 4, are immediately recognisable by their stripy costumes, ruffs and plumed helmets and are a favourite sight for tourists visiting the Vatican
Francis has been criticised in recent weeks for appearing to ignore social distancing rules and not wearing a mask when addressing large crowds at St. Peter’s Square.
He has also been photographed kissing the hands of several people he has met in his duties.
However, the gregarious Argentine appears to have heard the criticism and this week promised to be more vigilant.
At his weekly audience on Wednesday he apologised to the crowd for greeting them from a distance.
‘I would like, as I usually do, to come close to you and greet you, but…it is better to keep your distance,’ The Telegraph reported Francis as saying.
‘I believe that if all of us, as good citizens, respect the prescriptions of the authorities, it will help to put an end to this pandemic.’
Despite his comments to worshippers, Francis was pictured without a mask on Friday during an audience with Christian Wulff, the former president of the Federal Republic of Germany.
Francis was photographed standing next to Christian Wulff, the former president of the Federal Republic of Germany, at an audience on Friday in another apparent breach of safety restrictions
Neither the pontiff, nor Wulff wore masks during their indoor meeting on Friday. Last week the Vatican introduced new coronavirus restrictions, including the wearing of masks at all times and practising social distancing
Last week, the Vatican introduced new coronavirus restrictions including the wearing of masks at all times, including while outdoors, and practising social distancing.
After the first four guards tested positive for coronavirus on Monday, a Vatican spokesman announced new measures for the Swiss Guard.
‘All the guards, either in service or not, will wear masks inside and outside in observation of proscribed health measures,’ the spokesman said.
A member of the Swiss Guard stands by as Francis (right) speaks to followers on Wednesday. The world’s smallest army, the Swiss Guard was formed in 1506 to protect the pope
Aside from the guards, 15 people who reside in Vatican City have caught coronavirus, 12 of whom have recovered.
There have been no recorded deaths from coronavirus in the territory.
Despite the relatively low numbers in the city-state, concerns for the pontiff’s health have mounted as Italy – which surrounds Vatican City – tackles a sharp rise in daily cases, with a record 8,803 reported on Thursday.
More than 36,000 people have died from the virus in Italy since the pandemic reached the country at the end of February.
A Vatican spokesman has said the all guards ‘either in service or not’ be required to wear masks whether inside or outside. Above, a member of the Swiss Guard
The world’s smallest army, the Swiss Guard was created in 1506 by Pope Julius II for his protection and currently numbers over 100.
They are a popular tourist magnet at the Vatican, with their showy yellow, red and blue uniforms, halberds – an axe-like weapon – and metal helmets with ostrich plumage.
According to tradition, Swiss Guard must be men between 19 and 30 years old and at least 1.74 metres tall. They must be practising Roman Catholics and unmarried.
Today’s Swiss Guard are said to enjoy a more personal and informal relationship with the current pontiff, who is less attached to strict papal protocol than his predecessors.
In the recent film The Two Popes, which portrays a series of fictionalised meetings between Francis and his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI, Francis can be seen joking with a member of the Guard on several occasions.
A recruit of the Vatican’s elite Swiss Guard raises three fingers, the sign of the Holy Trinity, at the swearing in ceremony for new members at the Cortile di San Damaso, on October 4