ROME, Italy — Pope Francis has celebrated the Ash Wednesday ritual in traditional fashion despite fears of the coronavirus outbreak in Italy.

Francis and a long line of priests, bishops and cardinals walked through Rome's Aventine hill and into the 5th-century Santa Sabina basilica for a late afternoon Mass.

Neither the priests nor the faithful wore face masks, but Rome has largely been spared the virus. Other Masses were canceled in northern Italy, where most of the country's 400 cases are clustered. Other Catholic countries took Ash Wednesday precautions.

Italy is seeking international support for its virus containment efforts as its caseload grew to 447 and people linked to Italy got sick elsewhere in Europe and the world. 

Italy's health minister held a crisis meeting with the European Union and World Health Organization representatives in Rome. Twelve people have died in Italy since two case clusters emerged in the country's north. Greece, North Macedonia and Romania reported their first virus cases Wednesday, all linked to Italy's afflicted regions.

Italian authorities shut down Venice's famed Carnival events in a bid to stop the spread of the novel virus, as numbers of infected persons in the country have soared.

Veneto regional Gov. Luca Zaia said the shutdown started Sunday evening. Carnival, which normally draws tens of thousands of visitors to the lagoon city, would have run through Tuesday.

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In the Philippines,  priests sprinkled ashes on the heads of the faithful rather than making the mark of the cross on people's foreheads.