The Pope has re-opened some churches in Rome, defying political pressure to close all public buildings in the battle to curb the spread of coronavirus.

The rare standoff between the 83-year-old pontiff and Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte's government came as Italy's death toll topped 1,000.

Some of Rome's Catholic churches have now re-opened after Pope Francis voiced displeasure with the Italian authorities' push to shut them because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Italians have been told to avoid going outside without a good reason and machine-gun toting soldiers now patrol city streets.

But churches had stayed opened in the overwhelmingly Catholic country throughout what many now see as Italy's biggest crisis since World War II.

That changed yesterday when the vicar of Rome Angelo De Donatis said he could no longer withstand government pressure and was closing all Catholic places of worship across the Italian capital, about 900 in total.

Pope Francis' response was unusually swift and blunt.

"Drastic measures are not always good," the Argentine-born pope said in his live streamed morning prayer on Friday morning.

Deserted Vatican as lockdown in Italy continues but Pope has re-opened some churches

He prayed for "pastors to have the good judgement... not to leave the holy, faithful people of God alone."

The Pope also urged priests "to have the courage to go out and see the sick, bringing the strength of the word of God".

The vicar of Rome later issued a statement explaining that it had had "a further meeting" with the pontiff in which it was decided to let at least some churches to reopen their doors.

Vicar Angelo De Donatis said he ultimately decided that closing churches "will sow confusion" among the faithful and see some "feel even more isolated".

His decree explained that all of Rome's churches would remain closed to tourists. But smaller churches would open in some places specifically for the faithful.

"Dear priests, we rely on your wise discernment," the Rome vicar wrote. "Help everyone feel like the Church is not closing its doors on them."

Yet Rome now stands a deserted city in which almost nothing functions and barely anyone ventures outside.