Vatican City, Holy See:
Pope Francis stressed on Wednesday how important it is for families and friends to make small gestures like hugs and phone calls in times of isolation in a pandemic.
"We have to rediscover the concrete nature of small things and make small gestures to our fellow human beings – family, friends," the 83-year-old Pope told La Repubblica newspaper.
"There are gestures of tenderness, affection, compassion that are nevertheless crucial and important – for example a hot meal, a caress, a hug, a call."
The Italian rules instruct everyone to stay one meter apart in public, but to say nothing about what people can do at home.
Most shops have been closed since last week and public events have been canceled.
Italian streets are deserted, except for the few who go shopping or walk their dogs.
The Pope, born in Argentina, made no secret of his own discomfort with having to communicate with the world's 1.3 billion Catholics via livestream.
St. Peter's Square in the Vatican was also sealed off.
He complained about the feeling of being in a "cage" this month while bringing his first angelic prayer into a camera on Sunday instead of out of his Vatican window that was facing thousands of believers.
Italy was the first country in Europe to be severely affected by the coronavirus pandemic. The 2,503 official COVID-19 deaths account for more than half of the deaths reported outside of China.
Some of the "social isolation" measures currently underway across Europe and parts of the United States have been in effect in the northern epicenter of the virus in Italy since last month.
An Italian government indicated on Wednesday that some measures, such as school closings, will be extended after the April 3 expiration date.
"I do not rule it out," said Transport Minister Paola De Micheli.
The Pope himself has been suffering from a cold since last month.
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and published from a syndicated feed.)