Macabre Venice parade marks plague in coronavirus shadow

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Many wore the plague doctor mask with its long nose, which the physicians wore stuffed with medicinal herbs to protect themselves

Cloaked in black with their faces hidden by bone-white masks of plague doctors or the dead, Venetians marked a historical scourge in an annual procession held under the shadow of the new coronavirus outbreak.

The macabre march, which commemorates the plague that ravaged the city over four centuries ago, went ahead late Tuesday despite a decision to cancel other Venice carnival events as Italy battles the virus.

Italy, which has reported 12 deaths in Europe's worst outbreak of the virus, has attempted to lockdown the epicentre in the north to contain its spread, while cultural and sporting events have been cancelled or disrupted.

Disguised as monks, doctors, prisoners, beggars and the ill, dozens marched in procession around the Piazza San Marco as evening fell on Tuesday, some with lanterns in their hands.

Many wore the plague doctor mask with its long nose, which the physicians wore stuffed with medicinal herbs to protect themselves while treating those afflicted with the plague.

The mask is one of the symbols of the Venice Carnival.

Gathering in the arcades of the palace and piazza that was the centre of old Venetian Republic, they recited litanies in Latin. Afterwards they dispersed into the small streets that surround the piazza to the sounds of laughter.

The plague that broke out in 1575 wracked the city, with more than 50,000 succumbing to the disease.

In an effort to contain the outbreak those who had taken ill or were suspected of having the plague were quarantined.