Pope Francis during Ash Wednesday Mass in 2019. Photo: Vatican Pool/Getty Images

Pope Francis celebrated Ash Wednesday Mass at the Vatican, despite the cancellation of religious services elsewhere in Italy thanks to an ongoing outbreak of novel coronavirus, AP reports.

Why it matters: Mass gatherings in close proximity — like religious services and sporting events — could become an easy way for the virus to spread as the outbreak widens across the globe.

  • Venice, which has a number of confirmed coronavirus cases, cancelled its main Ash Wednesday Mass at the landmark St. Mark's Basilica.

The state of play: Italy has the fourth-largest number of confirmed coronavirus cases with 322.

  • Francis still kissed a child and shook hands with pilgrims during his usual audience in the Vatican's St. Peter's Square.
  • He also directly addressed the outbreak during his remarks, saying, "I want to again express my closeness to those suffering from the coronavirus and the health care workers who are treating them, as well as the civil authorities and all those who are working to help patients and stop the contagion."

The big picture: Taking on the virus is an issue for religious leaders across the globe.

  • Spiking coronavirus cases in Iran are raising concerns that the disease "infiltrated" a popular pilgrimage route for Shiite Muslims in the city of Qom, The Guardian reports.
  • Mosques in Iraq have been instructed to give advice on how to best avoid the coronavirus during their Friday sermons, Reuters notes.

Go deeper: Global coronavirus cases spread as U.S. soldier tests positive in South Korea

Go deeper

Biden: The next president should decide on Ginsburg’s replacement

Joe Biden. Photo: Drew Angerer / Getty Images

Joe Biden is calling for the winner of November's presidential election to select Ruth Bader Ginsburg's replacement on the Supreme Court.

What he's saying: "[L]et me be clear: The voters should pick the president and the president should pick the justice for the Senate to consider," Biden said. "This was the position the Republican Senate took in 2016 when there were almost 10 months to go before the election. That's the position the United States Senate must take today, and the election's only 46 days off.

Trump, McConnell to move fast to replace Ginsburg

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

President Trump will move within days to nominate his third Supreme Court justice in just three-plus short years — and shape the court for literally decades to come, top Republican sources tell Axios.

Driving the news: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans are ready to move to confirm Trump's nominee before Election Day, just 46 days away, setting up one of the most consequential periods of our lifetimes, the sources say.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 10 p.m. ET: 30,393,591 — Total deaths: 950,344— Total recoveries: 20,679,272Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 10 p.m. ET: 6,722,699 — Total deaths: 198,484 — Total recoveries: 2,556,465 — Total tests: 92,163,649Map.
  3. Politics: In reversal, CDC again recommends coronavirus testing for asymptomatic people.
  4. Health: Massive USPS face mask operation called off The risks of moving too fast on a vaccine.
  5. Business: Unemployment drop-off reverses course 1 million mortgage-holders fall through safety netHow the pandemic has deepened Boeing's 737 MAX crunch.
  6. Education: At least 42% of school employees are vulnerable.