ROME – As Italian regional officials canceled school and major public events over the weekend following a spike in the number of coronavirus cases, Church officials have urged citizens to adhere to restrictions set in place, saying they are close to the families impacted.

In comments to Italian network TGCOM24, Monsignor Stefano Russo, secretary general of the Italian bishops’ conference, said they are following developments “very closely and we are very interested in people’s health.”

“We confirm our closeness to the people impacted by this emergency,” he said, noting that they prayed for infected individuals and their families with Pope Francis during his visit to Bari on Sunday morning.

“At the same time, we are adhering to the provisions that the prefectures are giving,” he said.

The coronavirus broke out last year in China’s Hubei province, in the city of Wuhan. In China 76,000 people have been infected with the virus, and at least 2,442 people have died.

Italy is seeing the worst outbreak of the virus outside of Asia, with 152 cases and three deaths as of Sunday. Most infections in the country are concentrated in the northern Veneto and Lombardy regions.

Over the weekend local authorities shut down the famous Venice Carnival, which typically draws a large tourist crowd, two days early. Schools and businesses in the area have also been shut down for the next week, and several sporting events have also been cancelled.

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In comments to Italian network Sky TG24 television, regional president Luca Zaia said the ban on sporting events would last until March 1.

On Saturday, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced that “extraordinary measures” would be taken in a bid to stop the rising number of coronavirus cases in Italy, including quarantine restrictions that could last for weeks.

In his comments to TGCOM24, Russo said the Church, for its part, does not want “to contribute to generating further alarm, but we are attentive to everything that is being communicated because we are interested in people’s living conditions. They are provisions that must be respected.”

The priest stressed that general, everyday precautions should be taken in areas that are not affected, and that provisions given for effected areas must be followed.

“The state of attention of our government and our administration is so high that naturally we are attentive,” he said, adding that “if the situation should change again, we will be careful to correspond to what we are asked.”

Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen

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