Italy’s churches to reopen for mass from May 18th

Mass, baptisms, weddings and funerals in Italian churches will be reinstated from May 18th, provided those attending abide by a set of anti-coronavirus rules, the Italian government said on Thursday.

Italy's churches to reopen for mass from May 18th
People pray at Rome's Santa Maria in Trastevere church on May 3rd. Photo: AFP

All public religious ceremonies were cancelled when the government imposed a nationwide lockdown in early March over a pandemic that has since killed nearly 30,000 people, according to Italy's official toll.

The faithful will have to wear masks and sit or stand well spaced out, according to rules drawn up and approved by a scientific committee.

PHASE TWO EXPLAINED: What changes in Italy from May 4th?


In addition, holy water fonts where the faithful traditionally dip their fingers before making the sign of the cross on their forehead, will be dry and there will be no exchanging the sign of peace, which normally involves shaking hands with the people close by.

The most delicate issue from a hygiene point of view will be the distribution of the communion wafer.

The masked celebrant will have to disinfect his hands, put on single-use gloves, and drop the wafer into the believer's hands without coming into contact with them, and while remaining at an adequate distance.

Confession, normally conducted in confined cupboard-like spaces, should only be done in well-aired places – including outdoors if necessary.

Church doors will have to be kept open, to stop people transmitting or catching the virus via the door handles, and spaces used will have to be cleaned after every ceremony.

Some churches in Italy have remained open for prayer, under restrictions, but mass and public ceremonies have been banned at churches across the country since early March.

This includes funerals, which since May 4th have been allowed to go ahead with up to 5 people present – wearing masks and following social distancing rules.

Church wedding ceremonies have not been allowed under lockdown under national rules.

As for civil weddings, this is up to each local authority.

Some towns and cities, including Brescia and Milan, are already allowing ceremonies to go ahead at town halls under certain restrictions – including the requirement that the bride and groom wear masks.

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Covid-19: Are Italian live events at risk of being postponed?

As the infection rate rises sharply across the country, Italian virologists are calling for concerts and festivals to be rescheduled.

Covid-19: Are Italian live events at risk of being postponed?

Italy has seen a large increase in the number of Covid-19 cases in recent days, so much so that a number of virologists across the country are now urging the government to postpone major live events in a bid to curb infections. 

According to a new report by Italy’s independent health watchdog, the Gimbe Foundation, 595,349 new cases were recorded in the week from June 29th to July 5th; a worrying 55 percent increase on the previous week. 

In the same time span, the country also registered a 32.8 percent rise in the number of hospitalised patients, which went from 6,035 to 8,003.  

The latest Covid wave, which is being driven by the highly contagious Omicron 5 variant, is a “real cause for concern”, especially in terms of a “potential patient overload”, said Nino Cartabellotta, president of the Gimbe Foundation. 

As Italian cities prepare to host a packed calendar of concerts and festivals this summer, health experts are questioning whether such events should actually take place given the high risk of transmission associated with mass gatherings.

READ ALSO: What tourists in Italy need to know if they get Covid-19

“Rescheduling these types of events would be the best thing to do right now,” said Massimo Ciccozzi, Director of Epidemiology at Campus Bio-Medico University of Rome. 

The summer wave is expected to peak in mid-July but, Ciccozzi warns, the upcoming live events might “delay [the peak] until the end of July or even beyond” and extend the infection curve.

Antonello Maruotti, Professor of Statistics at LUMSA University of Rome, recently shared Ciccozzi’s concerns, saying that live events as big as Maneskin’s scheduled Rome concert are “definitely not a good idea”. 

The Italian rock band are slated to perform at the Circus Maximus on Saturday, July 9th but the expected turnout – over 70,000 fans are set to attend the event – has raised objections from an array of Italian doctors, with some warning that the concert might cause as many as 20,000 new cases.

If it were to materialise, the prospected scenario would significantly aggravate Lazio’s present medical predicament as there are currently over 186,000 Covid cases in the region (nearly 800 patients are receiving treatment in local hospitals). 

Italian rock band Maneskin performing in Turin

Italian rock band Maneskin are expected to perform at the Circus Maximus in Rome on Saturday, July 9th. Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP

But, despite pleas to postpone the event, it is likely that Maneskin’s concert will take place as scheduled.

Alessandro Onorato, Rome’s Tourism Councillor, said that rescheduling is “out of question” and that “all recommendations from the local medical authorities will be adopted” with the help of the event’s organisers and staff on the ground.

At the time of writing, there is also no indication that the Italian government will consider postponing other major live events scheduled to take place in the coming weeks, though the situation is evolving rapidly and a U-turn on previous dispositions can’t be ruled out.

READ ALSO: At a glance: What are the Covid-19 rules in Italy now?

On this note, it is worth mentioning that Italy has now scrapped all of its former Covid measures except the requirement to wear FFP2 face masks on public transport (though not on planes) and in healthcare settings.

The use of face coverings is, however, still recommended in all crowded areas, including outdoors – exactly the point that leading Italian doctors are stressing in the hope that live events will not lead to large-scale infection.

Antonio Magi, President of Rome’s OMCEO (College of Doctors, Surgeons and Dentists), said: “Our advice is to wear FFP2 masks […] in high-risk situations.”

“I hope that young people will heed our recommendations and think about the health risks that their parents or grandparents might be exposed to after the event [they attend].”