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4 Swiss Guards test positive as coronavirus penetrates Vatican

Vatican Swiss Guards stand at attention at their swearing-in ceremony.
Swiss Guards stand at attention at their swearing-in ceremony at the Vatican on Oct. 4, 2020.
(Gregorio Borgia / Associated Press)

Four Swiss Guards have tested positive for the coronavirus and were showing COVID-19 symptoms, the Vatican said Monday, amid a surge in infections in surrounding Italy.

The Swiss Guards, the world’s oldest standing army, provide ceremonial guard duty during papal Masses, stand sentinel at the Vatican’s gates and help protect the pontiff.

The four who tested positive for the coronavirus are in isolation while their contacts are being traced, the Vatican said. They join three other Vatican residents who tested positive in recent weeks, plus a dozen or so Holy See officials who tested positive during the first wave of the outbreak.

Despite the positive cases among his own guards, Pope Francis on Monday was seen once again without a mask. He warmly greeted Cardinal George Pell in his private studio, and neither man wore a mask. Also without a face covering were Pell’s secretary and the Vatican photographer.

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Francis, who lost part of one lung to illness when he was a young man, has drawn sharp criticism in social media for shunning a mask during his Wednesday general audience, which was held indoors last week. He was seen shaking hands with clerics and mingling with the masked crowd. His bodyguards were similarly maskless.

Italy is seeing a sharp surge in COVID-19 cases, with the Lazio region around the Vatican among the worst-hit in a second wave. Lazio currently has more people — 911 — hospitalized with the coronavirus than any other region, with 69 patients in intensive care.

Neither its stout walls nor its army of Swiss Guards has been able to stop a modern-day plague of coronavirus from creeping into the Vatican.

The Vatican last week amended its mask mandate to conform to Italy’s, requiring the coverings both indoors and outdoors. The Vatican didn’t immediately respond when asked why Francis wasn’t wearing one to receive Pell.

The Swiss Guards, famous for their billowy blue-, red- and yellow-striped uniforms, are all single Swiss men under 30 and must be upstanding Catholics. They sign up for two-year tours of duty and live communally inside Vatican City.

During their annual swearing-in ceremony — usually held in May but postponed until Oct. 4 because of COVID-19 — none of the recruits wore a mask, even though they wear them while standing guard at the entrances to Vatican City.


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