Serbia's Orthodox Patriarch goes into isolation after coronavirus contact

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BELGRADE (Reuters) - Patriarch Porfirije, the head of Serbia's influential Orthodox Church, went into isolation on Wednesday after coming into contact with a priest infected with COVID-19, his office said on Wednesday.

Porfirije, 59, Serbia's 46th Patriarch, was enthroned only last month after his predecessor Irinej died in November from COVID-19.

"Having in mind... that he was in contact with a priest who had a mild and asymptomatic form of COVID-19, His Holiness... will be preventively isolated in the coming days, in line with doctors' advice," his office said in a statement, without elaborating.

A number of Serbian Orthodox clergy have contracted the coronavirus since early 2020, including Irinej and Metropolitan Amfilohije, the church's patriarch in neighboring Montenegro who died from the respiratory disease last October.

Despite the pandemic, the Orthodox Church - with some 12 million faithful mainly in Serbia, Bosnia and Montenegro, has continued religious services and most of its clerics including Porfirije have appeared in public without face masks.

In Serbia, which has a population of 7 million and a nationwide vaccination programme, 4,475 people have died from COVID-19 so far and 466,885 have tested positive for the virus.

(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Mark Heinrich)