Eleven members of the Swiss Guard have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to a report in The Associated Press, prompting fears of an outbreak within the small corps charged with protecting the pope.

On Monday, the Vatican said four guards were infected with the virus and showing symptoms. Now, seven more have tested positive, according to The A.P.

The brightly clad Swiss Guards provide ceremonial guard duty during papal Masses and stand at the Vatican gates. They also serve as personal guards for the pope. Established in the early 16th century by Pope Julius II, the guard is considered the world’s oldest standing army.

Pope Francis, who is 83, is known for his relatively informal, friendly relationship with the guards. He has made a custom of shaking hands with them as he leaves his suite in the morning.

The Italian daily Corriere della Sera reported on Oct. 12 that Matteo Bruni, a spokesman for the Holy See, said “all the guards, on duty and not, wear masks — outdoors and indoors — and observe prescribed health measures.”

The pope has criticized priests who resist pandemic protection measures as “adolescent.” But Vatican observers have expressed concerns about his own habit of forgoing a mask in public settings.

Last week, Francis was photographed maskless at a large indoor gathering at the Vatican, speaking closely with attendees and kissing the hands of newly ordained priests.

Surgery in his early 20s left Francis missing part of one lung, a “pulmonary deficiency,” as one biographer put it, that might make it difficult to breath through a mask.

An early center of the pandemic, Italy kept the virus mostly under control through the summer. But the country has seen a sharp rise in new cases lately, with recent daily infection rates matching the country’s peak in April, according to a Times database.

NYTIMES

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