Italians will not be able to attend midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, with top health officials cracking down on any conditions that could lead to a potential resurgence in coronavirus cases -- a step that Catholic clergy has supported.
Italy managed to reduce a fall resurgence of cases but is currently suffering record fatalities from COVID-19, reporting 993 deaths on Thursday alone.
Premier Giuseppe Conte announced, then, that the country will enforce strong restrictions over the holiday season, which normally sees extended families gathering under one roof to celebrate. Health experts and policymakers alike remain concerned that a Christmas “as usual” would bring a third surge to Italy, Reuters reported.
“There is still a long way to go out of the pandemic,’’ Conte said. “We must avoid the risk of a third wave that could arrive as early as January. It could be just as violent as the first and the second.”
Junior Health Minister Sandra Zampa said Christmas Eve Mass must end by around 8:30 p.m. so that worshippers can also observe a 10 p.m. curfew, and she discouraged inviting non-family or extended family members for celebrations.
“From Dec. 20, people will only be able to travel outside their own region for emergencies such as to care for a single parent,” Zampa said during an interview on local television.
The Catholic bishops' permanent council met online Dec. 1 to discuss the curfew and how it would impact potential traditional celebrations, Catholic News reported.
The council has taken the stance that an earlier mass is well within the spirit of the tradition, but that they still need to determine the time and length of the mass to ensure it is "compatible with the curfew."
“The symbolically important fact for the celebration of (Christmas) night is not the exact hour — whether it is midnight or another time — but the fact that it is celebrated when there is no light, when it’s dark out, precisely to make evident the symbolic meaning of the feast,” Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro wrote in an Italian newspaper.
“If one understands the reasoning,” he wrote, “one also would understand that if the celebration of Mass during the night takes place when it’s dark outside, but before midnight, it certainly won’t make Jesus be born early.”
Conte announced additional new restrictions, including a travel ban between regions between Dec. 21 and Jan. 6, including visits to second or vacation homes. The government has also closed ski resorts over the Christmas and New Year period.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.