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Pope to spend 'few days' in hospital with respiratory infection

Pope Francis will need to spend "a few days" in hospital for treatment for a respiratory infection, the Vatican says.

Spokesman Matteo Bruni said the 86-year-old had complained of breathing difficulties in recent days and went to the Gemelli hospital in Rome for tests.

The pontiff does not have COVID but requires several days of therapy, he added.

"The tests showed a respiratory infection (COVID-19 infection excluded) that will require some days of medical therapy," a statement said.

"Pope Francis is touched by the many messages received and expresses his gratitude for the closeness and prayers."

The announcement came hours after the pope was taken to hospital for tests.

The Vatican initially said the check-up had been scheduled, but Italian media questioned that and said a TV interview with the pope this afternoon was cancelled at the last moment.

Earlier on Wednesday the pope attended his weekly general audience at the Vatican and appeared in good health.

However, he grimaced while getting into and out of the "popemobile".

Pope Francis is due to celebrate Palm Sunday this weekend ahead of the Vatican's Holy Week observances: Holy Thursday; Good Friday; the Easter Vigil; and Easter Sunday on 9 April.

US President Joe Biden said he had learned of Pope Francis's health problems and said he was concerned about his dear "friend".

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Previous health conditions

Pope Francis had one lung removed when he was young due to a respiratory infection and he often speaks in a whisper.

He spent 10 days at the Gemelli hospital in 2021 following surgery for an intestinal narrowing, when 33cm (13in) of his colon was removed.

The pontiff has used a wheelchair for over a year due to strained ligaments in his right knee and a small knee fracture. He has said the injury was healing and he has been walking more with a cane lately.

Pope Francis said he resisted having surgery for the knee problems because he did not respond well to general anaesthetic during the 2021 intestinal surgery.