Pope Francis on Sunday announced that he is suffering from a cold that has forced him to skip a spiritual retreat with senior Vatican officials near Rome for the first time under his papacy, reported AFP.

The announcement came on the day Italy reported a 50% increase in coronavirus cases with the country’s Civil Protection Authority confirming 1,694 cases – up from 1,128 cases reported on the previous day, according to CNN.

Thirty four people, who contracted the virus in the country, have died so far. Italy has reported the highest number of coronavirus cases outside Asia.

On Sunday, the 83-year-old pope was seen coughing several times as he made the announcement to thousands of his followers in St Peter’s Square at the Vatican. “Unfortunately, a cold will force me not take part this year [in the retreat],” he announced. “I will unite myself spiritually with the [participants] and all people who are living moments of prayer. I will do the spiritual exercises from home.”

The declaration was made after Pope Francis was forced to cancel public appearances between Thursday and Saturday – the first time he has skipped so many events in his seven-year-long papacy, reported The Independent. Earlier, the Vatican had claimed that the pope was only suffering from a “slight indisposition”, which had forced him to cancel the events in the three days. Concerns about his health were first raised on Wednesday.

The global toll in the novel coronavirus outbreak has breached the 3,000-mark as China reported 42 more deaths on Monday morning. The overall toll in mainland China is now 2,912, said the National Health Commission.