Milan, Italy
Milan, Italy
PIC: AFP

VATICAN CITY: Italy and the Vatican allowed the first public Masses to be celebrated since March on Monday as coronavirus restrictions eased further, following a sharp confrontation between church and the State over limits on worshiping in the era of COVID-19.

Guards in hazmat suits took the temperature of the faithful entering St. Peter's Basilica, where Pope Francis celebrated an early morning Mass for a handful of people.

Across town, the Rev. Jose Maria Galvan snapped on a latex glove and face mask before distributing Communion. Before I became a priest, I was a surgeon, so for me gloves are normal, he joked afterward.

I'm dexterous (with gloves) so the hosts don't get away from me. It was all part of Italy's next step in emerging from the West's first coronavirus lockdown, with commercial shops and restaurants reopening and barbers giving long overdue trims for the first time since March 10.

But with several hundred new infections still being recorded every day, the reopening is hardly a free-for-all, with strict virus containing measures regulating everything from how you get your coffee to the way you pray.

The government has published 120 pages of detailed norms for the resumption of work, play, worship, and commerce, with some of the most intricate protocols reserved for the resumption of public religious observance. The fear is that the elderly, among the most religiously devout and also the most at-risk for infection, could be exposed to the virus with resumed religious services.

The Vatican has its own post-lockdown reopening norms, and as a sovereign state, is not beholden to the Italian government measures. But in some cases, it is going beyond them, with the guards bearing thermo-scanners in St. Peter's Square taking the temperatures of anyone who wants to enter the basilica.

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